Ontario could be set to introduce newer, harsher punishments for distracted driving, making them harshest in the country and bringing the war against texting motorists to a whole new level. And young drivers especially should take notice.
Ontario's Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca told the Toronto Star that the distracted driving laws would be introduced after sessions resume at Queen's Park in October.
Once those laws are installed, effectively a given with the Liberals holding a majority government, the punishment for driving under the influence of a telephone will become financially more staggering and also leave a significant permanent mark on your driving record.
Ontario laws currently allow distracted driving fines of between $60 and $500. That range would be increased to $300 to $1,000. On top of that, those caught will also receive three rather than two demerit points, which are negative marks left on a person's driving record that can result in suspensions and higher automobile insurance rates.
Punishments vary in other regions of the country, but Ontario's proposed laws would make it the toughest of any province. Saskatchewan has the toughest current penalties, with fines of $280 and four demerit points.
Other notable punishments, according to the Canadian Automobile Association, are:
- Newfoundland and Labrador: $100-$400 and four demerits
- British Columbia: $167 and three demerits
- Alberta: $172 and no demerits
Ontario saw its distracted driving penalties increase once already this year, when the Ontario Court of Justice ordered that the punishments be raised for offenses such as having a display screen visible to the driver and using a hand-held communication device.
The harsher penalties come as personal electronic devices consume society, and as we gradually realize exactly how dangerous it is to drive without giving the task the upmost attention.
Earlier this summer, Toronto's Centre for Addiction and Mental Health released a survey that found teenage drivers have been slow to accept the dangers of distracted driving.
According to the results, 36 per cent of Ontario students in Grades 10 through 12 admitted to using their phone while driving a car, either to text someone or send an email. The number reached to 45.9 per cent of those in the highest grade, and the study found that female drivers were slightly more likely to use their phone while driving.
The number of young drivers who text while driving should be concerning under the new rules, because the soon-to-be introduced demerit punishment is actually far more damaging to novice drivers.
Ontario drivers with a full licence who receive a small number of demerit points are lightly punished, while new drivers with probationary licences will be suspended more quickly.
With a full licence, receiving two to eight demerit points will earn you a warning letter, nine to 14 points could result in a suspended licence and 15 or more points will ensure a suspension of 30 or more days.
Young drivers with probationary licences will receive a warning letter for two to five demerit points, and could have their licence suspended for six to eight demerit points. With nine or more points, the licence is suspended for at least 60 days.
There has also been some suggestion that those who are prone to texting while driving are more likely than others to repeat the behaviour. This could suggest that those caught once could be considered likely to re-offend, which would mean those demerit points could rack up quickly.
There's really no reason for this to be a big deal, however. It doesn't take much to avoid distracted driving. There are hands-free devices, there are safe places to pull into if you simply must make a call or send a text. There's also the option of simply not doing it.
The Ontario Provincial Police have said distracted driving plays a role in 30 to 50 per cent of collisions in the province, while the Insurance Bureau of Canada suggested distracted drivers are now more of a danger than drunk drivers.
Not only that, but other distractions, such as simply being tired, can also have an impact. The Insurance Bureau of Canada says that driver fatigue plays a role in 24 per cent of accidents in the country, even though it is less frequently listed as the official cause of a crash.
Everyone should take note when Ontario institutes in new, harsher distracted driving punishments, especially young drivers. But no one should panic. Because no one should be doing it anyway. Just don’t drive under the influence of telephones, and it won’t matter how high the penalties rise.