What is Being Done to Address Distracted Driving in Ontario?

Personal injury lawyers, especially those that represent car accident victims, are always attuned to risk factors that cause serious injuries and fatalities on Canadian roads. In the past 10-15 years, distracted driving has become a growing point of focus.

Even though distraction has always been a road safety concern – before cellphones, drivers could be distracted by analog factors like passenger behaviour or trying to read a map – in the past decade it has become one of the ‘Big Four’ risk factors on Ontario’s roads, alongside drug and alcohol impairment, speeding, and reckless or aggressive driving. According to a Traffic Injury Research Foundation report from 2019, distracted driving fatalities have actually surpassed impaired driving fatalities in parts of the country. And, according to the Canada Safety Council, ‘distraction was a contributing factor in 21% of collisions resulting in death and 27% of collisions resulting in serious injury’ in 2016.

That’s because it has never been easier to become distracted behind the wheel. Our vehicles have become tech-filled playgrounds equipped with sophisticated alarms and monitors, entertainment consoles, climate controls, and navigation systems. As auto manufacturers are unlikely to reduce the number of features and gadgets in their vehicles, and as drivers can’t be trusted to leave their phones in the backseat or the glove box, safety experts, including personal injury lawyers, are looking for different methods of reducing distracted driving.

One of those methods has been to implement tough distracted driving penalties. Ontario doesn’t have the best record when it comes to establishing effective road safety measures, but its rules on distracted driving are among the strictest in the country.

In our province, first-time distracted drivers face a fine of more than $600, plus three demerit points and a three-day licence suspension. Second-time offenders can receive fines of up to $2,000, plus six demerit points and a seven-day suspension, and third-time offenders face fines of up to $3,000, plus six demerit points and a 30-day licence suspension – not to mention the unforgiving insurance impacts.

Other tough-on-distracted-driving provinces include Saskatchewan, where third-time offenders face fines of up to $2,100, plus four demerit points and a seven-day vehicle seizure; Quebec, where anyone caught distracted driving more than twice faces a fine of up to $600, plus five demerit points and a 30-day licence suspension; and Manitoba, where all distracted drivers receive $672 fines and various demerit points and licence suspensions depending on the number of times they’ve offended.

In Nunavut, on the other hand, there are no official penalties for distracted driving. Other provinces and territories with relatively lenient rules included the Northwest Territories, where distracted driving is punishable by a $322 fine and three demerit points; New Brunswick, where distracted drivers face fines of $172.50, plus three demerit points; and Alberta, where offenders face fines of $300, plus three demerit points. The remaining provinces and territories sit between these six on the spectrum.

In addition to boasting Canada’s harshest distracted driving penalties, Ontario’s police force, the OPP, performs week-long crack downs, generally around return-to-school dates in January, September, and after the spring break. The province also invests in public education campaigns, including a highly-publicized TV and streaming commercial aimed at young drivers, who are far more likely to drive while distracted

The one-minute video, launched in 2016, showed a young driver checking his cell phone while in an intersection. His car is struck by an oncoming vehicle, and the viewer is then transported to a hospital room where he is confined to a wheelchair.

“It is important to spread the message that using your phone while driving is not OK, and investing in powerful ads and a strong marketing campaign will help us do that,” said Bob Nichols, senior media officer for the Ministry of Transportation, to the CBC when the ad was released.

“It sends a profound message that when you’re in a vehicle, just put the phone away, put the handheld device away and just focus on the task at hand,” added then-Minister of Transportation, Steven Del Duca.

Contact Will Davidson LLP

At Will Davidson LLP, our team of personal injury lawyers has decades of experience helping seriously injured car accident victims access compensation for the damages they have incurred. During that time, we have come to understand the life-changing consequences that can accompany a devastating motor vehicle accident. As such, we are vocal supporters of any measure to reduce the number of injuries and fatalities on Ontario roads, including programs to limit distracted driving.

If you or a member of your family has been hurt in an accident, contact us today to learn how we can help.

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Ontario Launches MOMS Act. Will Road Safety Improve?

On July 1, the Province of Ontario rolled out the first stage of a sweeping, multifaceted road safety plan called the Moving Ontarians More Safely (MOMS) Act. The legislation, originally introduced at Queen’s Park on April 26 and passed in late May, targets several high-profile areas of road safety concern. It has received approval from multiple safety advocacy organizations, including personal injury and car accident lawyers, although some groups say it doesn’t go far enough to protect road users.

The legislation’s primary focus is aggressive driving behaviours like stunt driving and street racing. However, there are also measures in place to protect transit riders, cyclists and e-bike riders, and road workers, as well as new truck safety standards and new regulations for the province’s towing industry.

“Both as Minister of Transportation and a parent to driving-aged teens, I am extremely concerned by the rising numbers of young drivers in Ontario caught stunt driving, street racing and driving aggressively,” said Minister of Transportation Caroline Mulroney in a provincial release. “By increasing driver’s licence suspensions and vehicle impoundment periods, the MOMS Act sends a clear message to drivers – driving is a privilege and those who threaten the safety of others have no place on our roads.”

Car accident lawyers will surely agree with the Minister that new rules for aggressive drivers are necessary. While collisions fell last year during the first and second waves of the COVID-19 pandemic in Ontario, the fatality rate increased, due in part to dangerous driving on empty roads. The new act will impose the following measures:

  • Increase roadside licence suspensions for drivers caught street racing or stunt driving from seven days to 30 days
  • Increase roadside vehicle impoundment period from seven days to 14 days
  • Introduce escalating post-conviction licence suspensions:
    • First conviction: one- to three-year suspension
    • Second conviction: three- to 10-year suspension
    • Third conviction: lifetime suspension that may be reduced at later date
    • Fourth conviction: lifetime licence suspension
  • Introduce lower speed threshold for stunt driving charges: from 50 km/h above speed limit on roads with speed limits under 80 km/h to 40 km/h above speed limit on roads with speed limits under 80 km/h
  • Introduce default speed limits of 80 km/h on highways not within a local municipality or built-up area

Protecting Vulnerable Road Users

The MOMS Act also seeks to better-protect vulnerable road users, including cyclists, pedestrians, motorcycle and e-bike riders, and transit users.

For transit users, the legislation introduces a new enforcement framework that will allow automated cameras to be installed on streetcars. The goal is capture photo evidence of drivers passing on the right – which is illegal – or on the left while the doors are open to pick up or drop off passengers.

It will also change the way ‘dooring’ incidents – when a parked driver opens their door and strikes a cyclist – are tracked. Under the new rules, individuals involved in dooring accidents are required to submit a police report; if charges are appropriate, they will also have to be filed.

For motorcycle and e-bike users, there will be a new definition of “power-assisted bicycles” under the Highway Traffic Act and new standards for three varieties of e-bikes: bicycle-style, mopeds, and motorcycle-style.

Protecting Road Workers, Trucking Standards, and Towing Industry Oversight

The MOMS Act’s remaining points of focus are road workers, the trucking industry, and the towing industry.

The Act will give Ministry of Transportation enforcement officers the power to close a road in emergencies. It will also permit the use of “Automated Flagger Assistance Devices” to reduce the need for road workers to direct traffic. Finally, it will allow highway construction vehicles to back up on divided highways when the action can be taken safely.

The trucking industry will be under new standards when the MOMS Act is fully implemented. New tools will be introduced to prevent drivers from breaking hours-of-service rules, and there will also be clearer dimensional limits for trailers.

The towing industry will soon be regulated by the Towing and Storage Safety and Enforcement Act, which will require tow operators, two truck drivers, and vehicle storage operators to be certified and meet certain requirements and standards. The new act will set customer protection and roadside behaviour standards, establish non-compliance penalties, and establish a Director of Towing and Vehicle and Storage Standards to provide oversight.

Safety Hopes

While road safety legislation always leaves room for improvement, many of the new rules introduced in the MOMS Act have the potential to improve safety and reduce injuries and fatalities on Ontario’s roads. It will be interesting to see whether accident and fatality rates fall in the coming months as some of these changes take effect.

If you or someone you know has been injured in a motor vehicle accident, contact the car accident lawyers at Will Davidson LLP today to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation. Our team will be happy to review your claim, explain your legal options, and provide the representation and support you need on your road to recovery.

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