In June 2018, the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) announced that distracted driving was the leading cause of traffic accidents in the province, making it as much a threat to public safety as drunk driving, drug-impaired driving, or dangerous driving. The announcement was unlikely to surprise Ontario car accident lawyers, but it may have come as a shock to the general public.
At the time, the government’s preventative efforts focused strongly on public education. The OPP and Ministry of Transportation partnered with local stakeholders to initiate awareness campaigns.
“A lot of kids follow their parents’ footsteps, so if they see their parents texting they might think it’s OK. They see their parents smoking they might think it’s OK,” said Holly Allen, a project coordinator with Kingston: Partners for a Safe Community in an interview with Global News this summer. “Trying to educate everyone is the goal, but educating parents first and foremost.”
Durham region also initiated a public messaging campaign underlining the dangers of the ‘Big Four Killers’ on Ontario roads: distracted driving, impaired driving, aggressive driving, and driving without a seatbelt.
Unfortunately, education may not be enough to prevent Ontarians from driving while distracted. In a survey conducted by Desjardins, which we discussed at length in a previous blog about distracted driving, a majority of respondents suggested that only fines and higher insurance premiums would push them to reconsider their distracted driving habits.
In 2019, they will get what they asked for. As part of changes to the provincial Cannabis, Smoke-Free Ontario and Road Safety Statute Law Amendment Act, distracted driving will be punished more harshly in come January. First time offenders will face a maximum fine of $1,000, a three-day license suspension, and three demerit points; second time offenders will face a $2,000 fine, seven-day license suspension, and six demerit points; and subsequent offences will provoke up to $3,000 in fines and a 30-day suspension. In other words, Ontario will have the harshest distracted driving penalties in the country.
“Safety is our top priority,” Minister of Transportation Jeff Yurek told the CBC in an email. The legislation, he added, “allows the province to address unsafe driving behaviours including careless and impaired driving with tough new rules and penalties that will improve road safety.”
While Ontario car accident lawyers are sure to support the new measures, most will caution that neither public education nor harsher penalties will reduce distracted driving on their own. The province and its municipalities must enact comprehensive distracted driving strategies to meaningfully improve road safety in Ontario.
If you or a member of your family has been injured in a motor vehicle accident, contact Will Davidson LLP’s team of experienced Ontario car accident lawyers today to learn how we can help.