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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Civil vs. Criminal Bartender Liability in Drunk Driving Accidents

Drunk driving rates have plummeted for decades in Canada, but impairment continues to be a major risk factor on our roads, as car accident lawyers know. Considering the time, money, and effort stakeholders have put into anti-drunk driving campaigns, when impaired driving accidents dooccur there tends to be significant public outcry. Community members want to know who is responsible.

The question of responsibility for drunk driving accidents doesn’t always come with easy answers. Yes, the individual who chose to get behind the wheel bears significant liability – but did they act alone? Were they overserved at a friend or relative’s house? Did they visit a bar or restaurant before driving? What happens if the driver is under the legal drinking age?

Some of these questions were asked following a single-vehicle impaired driving accident in 2017 near Ottawa that left two teenagers dead and another two seriously injured. All four had been drinking at Shooters’ Bar and Grill in Calabogie, Ontario, before the crash.

In 2018, 62-year-old Ann Senack, who served the boys at the establishment, was charged with two counts of criminal negligence causing death and two counts of criminal negligence causing bodily harm. The trial began this spring.

According to legal experts who spoke to Canadian Underwriterin 2019, criminal charges against bartenders related to drunk driving accidents are notoriously hard to prove.

“To extend criminal liability in these circumstances is very, very uncommon,” said Michael Lacy, president of the Criminal Lawyers’ Association. “If someone were held criminally culpable in these circumstances, I’d say that would be a precedent-setting decision.”

Another criminal lawyer told the publication that prosecutors would have to prove that there was a “marked and substantial” departure from the standard of care that servers owe patrons.

‘Prosecutors would have to show a bartender knew the person they were serving was clearly underage, and knew the person was driving home and was impaired to such a degree that it would be a danger to them and to others,’ Canadian Underwriter reported. ‘The Crown would also have to show a direct link between the alcohol served to the person and the injuries caused.’

Sure enough, Crown attorney Jefferson Richardson announced last month that charges against Senack would be stayed after cell phone records showed that the driver of the vehicle was using his phone at the time of the accident. Instead of facing jailtime, the server agreed to a 10-year peace bond and will pay $10,000 and perform 300 hours of community work, according to CBC News Ottawa.

However, the CBC also reported that several civil cases against Senack are pending – and the threshold for proving civil negligence is much lower than in criminal cases.

In order to establish negligence in a civil case, plaintiff-side lawyers most only prove that it is more likely than not that the bartender breached their standard of care.

“Those two things – one being the higher standard for criminal negligence, and the higher burden of proof in a criminal case – means that the viability of this type of prosecution is often minimal, which is why most of these cases are dealt with in the civil courts,” the criminal defence lawyer told Canadian Underwriter.

How Can Will Davidson’s Car Accident Lawyers Help?

In Ontario, there are several ways to pursue compensation for car accident injuries. The first and simplest is via accident benefits through your insurance provider. When a driver is involved in an accident in our province, their auto insurance entitles them to predetermined benefits based on the severity of their injuries. These benefits are often sufficient to cover any expenses and damages that arise from your accident.

In some cases, though, accident benefits may not be enough to address the serious injuries you have sustained. If you were not at-fault for your accident, or if liability can reasonably be shared by another party, you may be able to pursue a civil claim for damages with the help of our car accident lawyers. Impaired driving injuries precipitated by negligent bar or restaurant service is an example of a situation where a civil claim might be appropriate.

If you or a member of your family have been involved in a motor vehicle accident involving an at-fault party, consider contacting Will Davidson LLP today to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation with our team of car accident lawyers. We will be happy to assess your claim and explain your legal options.

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More Ontarians than Ever are Using E-Bikes – But are they Safe?

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced people to reassess how they get from point A to point B. For many, public transit is no longer a viable option; the health risks are simply too great. Those without private transportation are left with limited choices. Bicycle usage has surged – and so has the popularity of electric bicycles. Unfortunately, as some personal injury lawyers have come to understand, e-bikes present their own safety and legal challenges.

What are E-Bikes?

Electric bicycles, or e-bikes, are bicycles with integrated electric motors that assist propulsion. There are several kinds of e-bikes. Some look very much like traditional bicycles but have small motors that supplement the rider’s pedalling power. These are sometimes referred to as pedelecs. Others more closely resemble mopeds and have ‘power-on-demand’ motors activated by a throttle.

All e-bikes are powered by rechargeable batteries. Their maximum speeds generally range from 25 to 45 km/h.

Are E-Bikes Legal in Ontario?

E-bikes that travel up to 32 km/h are legal in Ontario, and have long been promoted by mobility advocates.

“Crucially, it allows people to go further, easier, and expands their access to things in an efficient way, especially within a suburban area, where things are more spread out,” said Darnel Harris, an urban planner and executive director of Our Greenway, to the CBC in June.

“E-bikes have been around for a while now, but especially with the pandemic people are looking for new ways to get around,” Cycle Toronto’s Michael Longfield told CTV News Toronto.

This summer, with the launch of Bike Share Toronto’s e-bike pilot program, the City of Toronto officially confirmed that e-bikes have a place on the city’s streets.

“Today we are … officially launching [Bike Share Toronto’s] e-bike pilot program,” announced Mayor John Tory in a tweet on August 19. “The pedal-assist electric bikes will reach a maximum speed of 25 kilometers per hour and can travel up to 70 kilometers without requiring a charge.”

Are E-Bikes Safe?

Toronto’s acceptance of e-bikes is part of a larger, international trend. E-bike have sales doubled in the city during the pandemic.  They also increased 85 per cent in the United States in March, according to the New York Times. In the Netherlands, approximately 40 per cent of all bicycles sold in 2019 were electric. In China, e-bikes have steadily replaced motorcycles and mopeds for more than a decade.

But are they safe? That’s the question plaguing road safety advocates and personal injury lawyers amid the sudden upturn in e-bike usage. Our Greenway’s Darnel Harris told the CBC that federal safety standards around the vehicles are too lax.

Safety experts are particularly concerned about their appropriateness for novice bike riders. Should an untrained 16-year-old be permitted to operate a motorized vehicle that travels as quickly as a slow-moving car?

And then there’s the question of insurance. E-bikes, particularly the heavier, power-on-demand models that can exceed maximum permitted speeds, have the potential to do damage in collisions with pedestrians and other cyclists. According to CTV News’s report, collisions are already increasing. Without e-bike insurance, injury victims may not be able to access benefits.

“There could really be a case where a person who is hit by an e-bike cannot be properly compensated or the person on the e-bike themselves could suffer very bad injuries and not be able to work or receive compensation for their injuries,” one personal injury lawyer told CTV.

In order to reduce the likelihood of this occurrence, stakeholders including personal injury lawyers are calling for more comprehensive and better-defined regulations. E-bike operators should know what class of vehicle they are riding, what rules pertain specifically to that class, and whether insurance is required.

“When people are unclear … about the law and how it applies, then of course they run the risk of offending the law,” Vancouver lawyer David Hay, who specializes in bicycle accident cases, told the CBC. “Whenever you get any kind of technological innovation, the law struggles to keep up.”

I’ve Been Injured in an E-Bike Accident – Now What?

If you’ve been injured in an accident involving an e-bike, contact Will Davidson LLP as soon as possible to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation. Our team of personal injury lawyers has been helping seriously injured Ontarians access compensation for their injuries for decades. Reach out today to learn more about our services and experience.

Why Will Davidson LLP?

Will Davidson LLP has broad experience representing both plaintiffs and insurers in personal injury and accident lawsuit. This expertise gives us unique insights into both sides of these sometimes contentious and emotional disputes.

Our team also works on a contingency basis, which means you will not be asked to pay up-front legal fees for our services. Instead, our team will accept a pre-decided percentage of the final settlement as payment. This arrangement allows us to offer access to justice to all Ontarians.

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Is Canada Falling Behind on Road Safety?

Serious car accidents continue to occur in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), despite restrictive physical distancing measures in place to arrest the spread of COVID-19. On March 30, one person was killed in a single vehicle accident at Toronto’s Exhibition Place; on April 3, another fatality occurred in a three-car crash near Islington and Steeles Avenues; and on April 4, a cyclist was struck and injured in the city’s Rexdale neighbourhood. For car accident lawyers, these events are a reminder that road safety reforms are urgently needed in Ontario, and that injury victims will continue to require legal assistance, even in the midst of a pandemic.

Before COVID-19 came to dominate headlines around the world (rightfully so), road safety issues were a major concern in several Canadian jurisdictions. Forty-two pedestrians were killed on the streets of Toronto in 2019, the same number as the previous year and the most since 50 people were killed in 2002. Fifteen motorists, six motorcyclists, and a cyclist were also killed.

In Ottawa, the deaths of three cyclists in 2019 attracted significant media attention and added urgency to the city’s new road safety plan. The picture is even grimmer in several remote and rural communities: drivers in Northern Ontario are nearly twice as likely to be killed in an accident as their neighbours in the south. In Yukon, the 2017 traffic fatality rate was 18.2 per 100,000, more than three times the then national rate of 5.0 per 100,000.

The news isn’t all bad, of course. Fatal traffic accidents have slowly declined over the past decades in Canada, as have rates of drunk driving. But road safety experts, including car accident lawyers, are concerned that the country is falling behind.

In 2019, the City of Oslo, Norway’s capital, recorded zero traffic deaths. It reached this milestone by enacting a series of sweeping infrastructure and policy changes, including reducing speed limits and improving demarcation between cycling and driving lanes. The policies are largely in line with Sweden’s ‘Vision Zero’ philosophy, which aims to eliminate deaths and serious injuries by making safety central to infrastructure and transportation decisions.

Vision Zero has been adopted, often to great effect, by cities around the world, including some much closer to home, such as New York. In Canada, Vision Zero was first adopted by Edmonton, in 2015, and later by Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal, and Hamilton, among others. Halifax and Ottawa have road safety strategies that embrace parts of Vision Zero without explicitly targeting zero deaths.

Unfortunately, many Canadian cities have struggled to reduce traffic deaths, and have particularly struggled to protect vulnerable road users. Critics believe a paradigm shift is necessary for these goals to be accomplished: decision makers must prioritize safety over efficiency and convenience.

In an expansive article for the Ottawa Citizen, Elizabeth Payne, the recipient of a traffic safety fellowship with the International Centre for Journalists, spoke with Ottawa city councillor Catherine McKenney about the city’s road safety shortcomings. While McKenney supports the many of the measures included in the city’s new road safety strategy, she believes it is inherently flawed by its failure to target zero deaths.

“The plan is a better plan than we have ever had in this city,” McKenney said. “But the key piece missing is Vision Zero. Without that, we are accepting that road deaths are normalized, that they’re OK. Without establishing a goal of zero, it means that we don’t acknowledge that every single death on our roadway is preventable. And every single death is preventable.”

As car accident lawyers, our team encounters seriously injured accident victims on a daily or weekly basis. We are acutely aware of the devastating, lifelong impacts that a serious motor vehicle accident injury can have. For us, the central tenets of the Vision Zero strategy – lower speed limits, improved safety infrastructure, respect for all road users – are common sense. But for people who have never been affected by a serious motor vehicle accident, these measures can appear costly, inefficient, and unwarranted. As a result, road safety improvements are often pushed to the political backburner, which leads to frustration among advocates.

“One of the things that frustrates me is that it doesn’t get the priority it needs,” road safety expert Neil Arason told Payne. “Every year, a couple of thousand people are killed on our roads and 10,000 to 15,000 people are seriously injured. We just accept it.”

“It’s not hard to see these traffic deaths are easily preventable. That is what is so frustrating,” added Graham Larkin, executive director of Vision Zero Canada. “Is [Vision Zero] doable in Canada? Yes, it is doable anywhere. The same principles apply. You often hear excuses made. We build excuses like the Dutch build infrastructure. They will just go ahead and fix things whereas we will tend too often to say, ‘Well, you know it can’t happen here.’”

There is no telling how long the COVID-19 pandemic will linger in Canada. Restrictions on movements could be eased as early as late spring, or could last into 2021. During this time, it is essential that Canadian road safety activists and their political allies continue to emphasize the importance of their mission. Fatal and serious traffic accidents continue to occur every day, even amid this largescale lockdown. The people injured in those accidents are as important today as they were before the pandemic.

If you or a member of your family have been injured in an accident, contact the car accident lawyers at Will Davidson LLP to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation. Our team is accepting new clients during the COVID-19 lockdown and would be happy to discuss your case.

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