Using a cell phone or other entertainment device while driving is about to cost Ontario drivers a lot more when the province’s new distracted driving law kicks in on Jan. 1.
The penalty for Ontario drivers caught using their phones will increase to $1,000, along with a three-day licence suspension and three demerit points. This will more than double the current distracted driving fine of $490.
The new rule was introduced under the Cannabis, Smoke-Free Ontario and Road Safety Statute Law Amendment Act, which was passed on Dec. 12, 2017, and regulates the sale of recreational cannabis in the province.
"Safety is our top priority," said Jeff Yurek, Ontario's minister of transportation, in an email to CBC News on Thursday. Yurek said the legislation "allows the province to address unsafe driving behaviours, including careless driving and impaired driving with tough new rules and penalties that will help improve road safety."
Repeat offenders will face even heftier fines: $2,000, a seven-day licence suspension, and six demerit points. Those caught driving distracted more than two times will be fined up to $3,000 and lose their licence for 30 days, giving Ontarians the harshest penalties in the country for repeated distracted driving convictions.
"Ontario's roads are among the safest in North America, but we also know distracted driving continues to be a serious issue," Yurek told CBC News.
Manitoba also upped its distracted driving fines on Nov. 1. Distracted drivers in the province now face a $672 fine (up from $203), a three-day licence suspension, and five demerit points. If they break the distracted driving law again within 10 years after their first offence, they face an additional seven-day suspension.
Distracted driving can include a host of activities, like using your phone to talk, text, check maps, or even choosing a playlist to listen to, according to the Ministry of Transportation. And it doesn’t matter whether you’re in motion, or stopped at a red light when you’re distracted — the charge will be treated the same.
Despite believing it’s unacceptable, 33% of Canadians admit they’ve texted while stopped at a red light, according to 2016 data from CAA National.
Drivers are 23 times more likely to be involved in an accident if they’re texting while driving, and four times more likely if they’re talking on the phone while driving, even if it’s a hands-free connection, according to the Insurance Bureau of Canada.
The Ontario Provincial Police have said that distracted driving continues to be the number one cause of death on Ontario’s roads.