I say the words ‘distracted driving’ and most people think the notion doesn’t apply to their coffee drinking, muffin eating, lipstick applying car habits. It only applies to people using their phones, right? Wrong!

What is considered distracted driving in Ontario?

The RCMP defines distracted driving as:

“…a form of impaired driving as a driver’s judgment is compromised when they are not fully focused on the road. Distracted driving qualifies as:

  • talking on a cell phone
  • texting
  • reading (e.g. books, maps, and newspapers)
  • using a GPS
  • watching videos or movies
  • eating/drinking
  • smoking
  • personal grooming
  • adjusting the radio/CD and playing extremely loud music
  • even talking to passengers and driving while fatigued (mentally and/or physically) can be forms of distracted driving.” (Source)

Who Is A Typical Distracted Driver?

Prevailing wisdom might have you thinking that the typical distracted driver is a 20 something year old millennial, and you would be right.

According to some numbers from Desjardins Insurance: “Eleven percent of drivers aged 16-24 admit to driving while using their smartphone on a regular basis, twice the national average (5%). When asked what drivers use their smartphone for while driving, one-third point to GPS apps as the primary reason. Here too, however, younger drivers are more likely to reach for the phone, with 45% of drivers aged 16-24 using GPS apps compared to only 22% of the 55-74 age group.

Non-smartphone distractions include: the external environment (51%), focusing on passengers or children in the vehicle (35%), changing settings on the vehicle’s entertainment system (35%) and eating or drinking (31%).” (Source)

As a side note however, millennials are the most likely group to take action or call it out when they witness distracted driving.

A survey that came out recently from Travelers Insurance indicated that 59% of respondents in the 18-34 age group have at least once asked a driver to stop using their mobile device. That percentage represents the highest of all the age groups surveyed!

Why does this matter? Because in the same way that drinking and driving has become an act that is negatively viewed by peers and society in general, distracted driving is more likely to be curbed if people feel it is inappropriate. If the group mostly likely to engage in the activity is also the group most likely to call it out when they see it, millennials can have a strong role in changing the behaviour.

How Is Ontario Dealing With Distracted Driving?

Ontario Laws on Distracted Driving!

In Ontario, the OPP have ‘Operation Impact’, a campaign to educate and reduce the ‘big four’ driving infractions: distracted driving, impaired driving, aggressive driving and not wearing seatbelts. While the police are always on the lookout for these activities, they do have certain weekends where it becomes their primary focus on area highways.

And their efforts show a net effect: over the Thanksgiving long weekend 2018, the initiative resulted in 120 charges in Peterborough County alone! York Regional Police are reporting that they laid 5,577 distracted driving charges in 2017. That’s an increase of 21% compared to 2016. Extrapolate that number across the country and you can imagine how many infractions we are talking about, any one of which could have resulted in injury or death on our roads.

The OPP reported in 2012 that distracted driving was the leading cause of road deaths, more than drinking and driving and speed combined! Think about that for a moment. According to the latest numbers from 2017, 83 deaths on Ontario roads were due directly to distracted driving. Despite the ongoing campaigns by police forces nationwide, this trend is clearly going to continue in 2018. Drivers aren’t being dissuaded from engaging in the ‘big four’.

What defines a distracted driving in Ontario?

Again, according to the Desjardins survey mentioned earlier: “The survey found that the biggest deterrent were consequences related to getting caught using a smartphone behind the wheel. Fifty-five percent are most concerned about fines and the potential for higher insurance rates.”

While warnings were a big part of the campaigns in the past, this is over. If you are pulled over for distracted driving, you are going to get charged.

Fines and Penalties for distracted driving in Ontario

  • A fine of $400 plus a victim surcharge and court fee of $90, for a total of $490, if you settle out of court
  • The fine can go up to $1,000 if you get a summons or fight the charge.
  • 3 demerit points added to your license.

In addition, distracted drivers can also be charged with careless driving under the Highway Traffic Act or dangerous driving under the criminal code. These charges come with their own fines and penalties.

The next step in the attempt to curb distracted, impaired and careless driving (speeding, racing) is to increase the fines and penalties associated with the charges.

As of January 1, 2019, the fines and penalties will be:

  • A fine of $1,000.
  • 3 demerit points added to your license.
  • A second conviction? $2,000 fine and a 7 day license suspension. You could also lose 6 demerit points, subsequent convictions.
  • A third? $3,000 fine and a 30 day license suspension.

Beyond these consequences, including your insurance rates going up, you need to consider the ramifications of a moment of inattention at the wheel. That’s all it takes for you to swerve or hit a pedestrian or cyclist. That moment of inattention spent on your phone or putting on lipstick could be something you have to live with, for the rest of your life. Is it worth it?