Pay Attention Hamilton! Ontario’s New Driving Rules
We all love to complain about our politicians, but now and again, they do something smart that I can appreciate. Last month, Ontario began enforcing a bunch of new traffic laws, and I think they’re good for drivers.
These new laws got a lot of press at the time, yet whenever I bring them up in conversation (which is quite often given my profession), most people have no idea.
Ignorance of the law is not an acceptable defence nor will it make you feel better if you have to pay out a few thousand dollars in fines or if you injure another person. So here’s the Coles Notes version of Ontario’s new traffic laws:
- Door Prizes
Okay drivers: How many of you regularly check your rear-view, side mirror and blind spot for bikes before you open your door? Answer honestly…
Let’s just say that if it’s something you’ve forgotten to do in the past, now’s the time to start.
The fine for ‘dooring’ has increased to $365, but it could cost you up to $1,000 and three demerit points. Think that’s a bit steep? Think of the cyclist on the receiving end of the door prize. Now pretend that cyclist is your son or daughter. It’s such a careless move and so easy to prevent…
- Distracted Driving
This is the big one. Fines are way up (as they should be.)
Technically in Ontario, and according to the MTO website, you’re not allowed to:
- operate hand-held communication and electronic entertainment devices while you’re driving
- view display screens unrelated to your driving
Examples of hand-held devices include:
- GPS and MP3 players
- cell phones
- smart phones
- DVD players
This includes manually programming your GPS and scrolling through contacts and playlists. You need to do these things BEFORE you start driving or let them be.
So if you’re caught, what penalties do you face? Get ready – this is serious stuff:
If you’re a fully licenced driver, you could pay a fine of $490 (this includes the victim surcharge and court fees), a fine of up to $1000 if you decide to fight your ticket and lose, and three demerit points.
If you’re in the midst of graduated licensing, it gets even stricter:
- A 30 day suspension for your first offense
- A 90 day suspension for your second offense
- A cancelled licence, meaning you have to start from the beginning with a shiny new G1 for your third offense.
Personally I think these penalties are smart. I like the emphasis on new drivers because it ensures they don’t create bad habits to begin with.
You’ll note that this law doesn’t specifically mention other distractions like eating, applying makeup or tending to pets; but that doesn’t mean you’re free to reapply your lipstick after you’ve eaten half your breakfast sandwich and fed the other half to Fido—all while hurtling down the 403 at 110km/hour.
There is a clause that allows officers to charge drivers with careless driving if they endanger others because of ANY distraction. This is more up to the discretion of individual officers and it covers off the grey areas.
Before you think that means it’s not as serious, it’s actually MORE serious.
A conviction for careless driving can result in losing six demerit points, fines up to$2k, a two-year licence suspension and six months in jail. Now, are you SURE you can’t eat that breakfast sandwich at your desk?
- Move Over For Tow Trucks
This is a smart move. Tow truck drivers are like lawyers: We all complain about them till we need one.
The reality is that tow truck drivers are usually the first at the scene of an accident, yet few motorists slow down and move to the far lane when they see one at the scene.
This will no longer be the case. Now when you see a tow truck at the scene of an accident with flashing amber lights, you must slow down and change lanes just as you would for any emergency vehicle.
If you forget to move over where possible? You could be fined $490.
- Light Your Bike
The enhanced road safety laws aren’t just for motorists. MTO is also looking at what cyclists can do to contribute to keeping our roads – and themselves – safe.
It was always a law that cyclists had to have lights on their bike if they rode at night, but the $20 fine was hardly a deterrent to breaking it. Today cyclists can be fined $110 if they fail to attach white or amber light at the front of their bike, and a red light or reflector at the rear.
There’s nothing worse than the idea of a young cyclist dressed in black and riding a bike at night to strike fear in the heart of motorists and parents. But with MTO’s new laws coming into effect, perhaps young cyclists – and old – will do their part to ensure they arrive safely.
What Other New Traffic Laws Can We Look Forward To In 2016?
So what’s next for Ontario roads? I’m particularly supportive of a new law that comes into effect on January 1st, 2016, that forces drivers to yield the entire roadway to pedestrians at school crossings and pedestrian crosswalks. Kudos for that. I’ve often felt the wind at my knees as drivers give me just enough time to clear barely half the road as they continue on their way.
Also in 2016, there are rumours of new penalties for drug-impaired driving (similar to those we have for alcohol-impaired driving.) The reality is, young people in cities like Hamilton and Toronto often have easier access to drugs than alcohol, and many think nothing of driving high. I’m hoping that once this new law comes into effect, it will curb this bad habit and keep our communities just a bit safer.