"Don't drink and drive, don't text and drive, be smart and make good choices" — I say these words to my 17-year-old daughter Hayley every time she walks out of the house. As a personal injury lawyer, I have seen what happens when people don't follow these common sense rules, so I don't mind repeating myself every day to make sure that my loved ones stay safe.
In this blog post, I will discuss distracted driving (e.g. texting and driving). In future posts, I will delve into other topics, including the legal concepts of careless driving and dangerous driving, as well as road hazards, to name a few.
In 2009, the Government of Ontario banned the use of handheld devices while driving. "Simply holding a phone or other device while driving is against the law."1 It doesn't matter if you're on a highway, or stopped at a red light – distracted driving could cost you in more ways than one. The fines are large, but the consequences are far greater for those who suffer harm because they were distracted, or who suffer harm at the hands of those who just were not paying proper attention.
According to 2013 data on Ontario collisions, a distracted driver is four times more likely to crash than a driver focusing on the road. What's more, an individual is injured in a distracted driving collision every 30 seconds.2 These types of collisions are almost always preventable.
Cell phones are one of the most common distractions for drivers, and drivers engaged in text messaging are a staggering 23 times3 more likely to be involved in a crash or near crash event compared to non-distracted drivers.
Some other possible situations that could lead to distracted driving include:
- Using other hand-held devices (e.g. iPod, GPS devices) and hand-held entertainment devices (e.g. DVD player, e-reader).
- Adjusting Radio/CD or playlist.
- Looking up directions on a phone or map, or resetting a GPS.
- Looking at landmarks, scenery or billboards.
- Actions by passengers or pets in the vehicle.
- Reaching for a moving or loose item.
- Eating or drinking.
The key is to keep your eyes and your mind on the road at all times.
Tips to Avoid Distracted Driving
Remember, anything that takes your attention away from the road could be considered distracted driving and lead to an avoidable collision.
Here are some tips to avoid situations leading to distracted driving.
- Allow plenty of travel time. Being in a hurry causes people to try to "multi task" on the road.
- Plan ahead. Use a GPS to determine the best route and pre-program the route prior to driving.
- If you have to make a call, use a hands-free, voice activated device (e.g. bluetooth) so that you never have to touch your phone. If you must pick up your phone, pull over for the few seconds it takes to make the call. Ask a passenger to make calls or check directions on your behalf. Turn your phone to silent and place it in your glove compartment or bag so as not to be distracted by the constant buzzing and pinging.
- Preset radio/play list and climate control prior to driving.
- Stow and secure all loose objects – including pets – prior to driving.
- If you are the passenger, do not let the driver operate the care while distracted.
Driving is a big responsibility; it is a privilege not a right. Distracted driving puts you, your passengers and everyone else on the road at risk of serious injury or death. This risk has to be taken every bit as seriously as impaired driving.
Distracted Driving Laws in Ontario
The penalty for distracted driving convictions depends on the licence you hold and how long you have been driving.
Experienced drivers, for example those holding a G licence, who are convicted of distracted driving, will face:
- A fine of $490, if settled out of court.
- A fine of up to $1,000 if summons is received or if you fight the ticket in court and lose.
- Three demerit points.
Novice drivers, holding a G1/G2 licence, who are convicted of distracted driving will face the same fines as drivers with a G licence. But, instead of demerit points, you will face:
- A 30-day licence suspension (first conviction)
- A 90-day licence suspension (second conviction)
- Cancellation of your licence or removal from the Gradual Licensing System (GLS) (third conviction)
To get your licence back, you'll have to redo your G1 and G2 tests.
Something to Think About
If you endanger other people because of distracted driving, you could also face careless driving charges. If you are convicted of careless driving, you may receive six demerit points, fines up to $2,000 and/or a jail term of six months and a license suspension of up to two years.
If a situation leads to someone's death or bodily harm, you could be charged with dangerous driving. This is a criminal offense that carries heavier penalties including jail terms of up to 10 years for causing bodily harm or up to 14 years for causing death.
For all of these reasons, I will keep saying the same thing to my daughter when she leaves the house, and to my other kids as they get to the age where they, and their friends, are driving – "Don't drink and drive, don't text and drive, be smart and make good choices". Not only do they need to follow these rules, but they need to have the strength and confidence to make sure that the driver of any vehicle in which they are a passenger follows the same rules. Today, most of us would never consider getting in the car with a driver who is drunk. Together, we need to move our society to the point where distracted driving is treated in the same manner. Just don't do it.
We will review careless driving and dangerous driving over the next couple of blog posts.
HSH is a proud sponsor of the TIPSY Program at St. Michael's Hospital. Embedded here is a video of Adam Wagman speaking with students at the TIPSY Program at St. Michael's Hospital.
3 www.distracteddriving.caa.ca/education/distractions.php based on Virginia Tech Transportation Institute Study, 2010)
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.