On January 1, the Ontario government launched a tough new law in a bid to curb distracted driving, which comes with a fine of up to $1,000 for first-time offenders.
Under the law, drivers may use hands-free devices or devices such as a cell phone or GPS device provided that they are securely mounted. In an emergency, a driver is allowed to dial 911, but it is encouraged that they pull off the road first.
While there seems to be a bit of confusion from some mainstream media outlets, the new law is very specific. These are the things which are NOT allowed while driving, even when stopped in traffic.
∙ Use of hand-held wireless communication devices;
∙ Texting, dialing and e-mailing;
∙ Use of hand-held electronic entertainment devices;
∙ Viewing display screens unrelated to driving, on devices; and,
∙ Programming a GPS device, other than by voice commands.
Additionally, devices like walkie-talkies or hand-held mics are not allowed to be used unless they can be used hands-free.
Here is what you CAN do:
You may use your cell phone with an earpiece, headset or Bluetooth speaker and voice-activated dialing, provided that your phone is securely mounted. You may only touch the phone to activate the voice functionality. Dialing or scrolling through your contacts list is not allowed.
You can use a GPS device, provided that it is properly mounted on the dashboard or windshield. You must input your destination before beginning to drive.
Use your phone or mp3 player (does anyone still have one of those?) which is connected to the car’s sound system, but you must select your playlist and press play before rolling out.
The display screen on the dash of modern vehicles may be used for safety reasons. This is going to be a tough one for many drivers, but also for enforcement, as so much of a modern vehicle’s functionality is often directed through the screen. Things like adjusting the climate control are not safety issues, although it could be argued that switching on the defroster is.
Ignition interlock devices may be used. These are the breathalyzer type devices that those who have been charged with impaired driving must use to start their vehicle. Periodically while driving, an operator will be required to perform a “rolling retest”, intended to prevent them from drinking while they are driving.
The MTO FAQ page has one section dedicated to “Can I use my phone when I am stopped at a stop light?”. It should come as no surprise that the answer is no.
There are a few exceptions to the law, including as mentioned before, drivers who are calling 9-1-1 or have pulled safely off the road and are not impeding traffic. Commercial, public transit drivers, and public service workers are allowed to view data screens required to do their jobs. Some commercial, public transit, and public function drivers, along with licenced amateur radio operators have received an extension to be able to use CB radio style devices until January 2021.
There are other devices which are not included in the ban:
∙ Viewing a display screen used for collision avoidance systems
∙ Viewing a display screen of an instrument, gauge or system that provides information on the conditions, use and immediate environment of the vehicle or that provides road or weather information
∙ Car audio screens that display still images
∙ Ignition interlock
Stiff New Penalties:
As the existing fines seem to have done little to deter folks from using their phone while driving, the new law comes with some serious teeth that grow sharper for repeat offenders. There is a heady cocktail of fines, demerit points and licence suspensions which are hard to ignore.
∙ First conviction: a fine of $615, if settled out of court (includes a victim surcharge and the court fee), a fine of up to $1,000 if a summons is received or if you fight the ticket in court and lose, three demerit points and a 3- day suspension
∙ Second conviction: a fine of $615, if settled out of court (includes a victim surcharge and the court fee), a fine of up to $2,000 if a summons is received or if you fight the ticket in court and lose, six demerit points and a 7-day suspension
∙ Third and any subsequent conviction(s): a fine of $615, if settled out of court (includes a victim surcharge and the court fee), a fine of up to $3,000 if a summons is received or if you fight the ticket in court and lose, six demerit points, and a 30-day suspension.
Novice drivers are subject to the same fine structure but also are subject to the existing sanctions that include 30/60 day suspensions and licence cancellation.
As far as the confusion about the new law goes, eating and drinking while driving is not covered under this new law in any way. That being said, scarfing down a breakfast could still get you in trouble with the law, as it always could. Say for example that you spill your piping hot extra foam latte in your lap. As a result of the shock, you take your eyes off the road to look down and survey the damage and in the process, cause an accident. In that case, you could be charged with careless driving, not distracted driving, at the discretion of the attending police officer.
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