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28 April 2024

Eyes On The Road, Hands, On The Wheel, Mind On The Task At Hand: It's Distracted Driving Awareness Month

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Howie, Sacks & Henry LLP

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Howie, Sacks & Henry LLP (HSH) was formed in 2000 by three lawyers who envisioned a firm that provided exceptional legal services to injury victims in a clear, compassionate, and caring way. To us, HSH represents not just our firm name but also our mission: Hope Starts Here.
If you're reading this blog post as one of the 20 percent of drivers who admit to surfing the web while behind the wheel, please put down your phone!
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If you're reading this blog post as one of the 20 percent of drivers who admit to surfing the web while behind the wheel, please put down your phone! While learning about distracted driving is important, it can certainly wait until you've come to a safe stop and put your car in park.

Of course, if you're interested in articles about driver safety, odds are that you're probably among the four out of five drivers who already understand that browsing web pages while operating a fast-moving, heavy piece of equipment is a recipe for disaster.

Still, there are many other ways a normally safe driver can become momentarily distracted while on the road – and a moment is all it takes to cause a serious motor vehicle accident.

In recognition of April being Distracted Driving Awareness Month, this blog post will outline distracted driving definitions and laws, note some common ways drivers lose focus, and provide tips for staying attentive and safe.

Distracted driving definitions.

Ontario's distracted driving laws only encompass the use of hand-held communication/entertainment devices and certain display screens. Prohibitions include:

  • using a phone or other hand-held wireless communication device to text or dial (with exceptions made for calling 911 in an emergency)
  • using a hand-held electronic entertainment device, such as a tablet or portable gaming console
  • viewing display screens unrelated to driving, such as watching a video
  • programming a GPS device, except by voice commands (viewing GPS display screens is permitted if built into or securely mounted on the vehicle's dashboard)

Other actions, such as eating, drinking, grooming, smoking, reading, and reaching for objects are not covered by this legislation. Nevertheless, if these or other actions lead a driver to operate a vehicle in a way which demonstrates a lack of care or endangers others, they could be charged with careless driving or dangerous driving.

For distracted driving awareness month, however, let's consider a more comprehensive definition: any activity that unnecessarily diverts your attention away from the road.

The U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC) identifies three types of driving distractions:

  • Visual (eyes off the road) – gazing at surrounding scenery, looking at a passenger while talking, focussing on a phone or other screen
  • Manual (hands off the wheel) – adjusting the radio or other controls, searching for an object in the car, reaching for food or drink
  • Cognitive (mind off driving) – prolonged discussions with a passenger, daydreaming, thinking about items on your To-Do List

Distracted, careless, and dangerous driving laws

For Ontario drivers holding Class A, B, C, D, E, F, G and/or M licences, penalties upon conviction include a mix of fines, demerit points and licence suspensions. Novice drivers holding G1, G2, M1 or M2 licences are subject to the same fines, but longer suspensions instead of demerit points:

  • First Conviction: $615 – $1,000, 3 demerits, 3-day suspension (30-day licence suspension for novice drivers)
  • Second Conviction: $615 – $2,000, 6 demerits, 7-day suspension (90-day licence suspension for novice drivers)
  • Third Conviction: $615 – $3,000, 6 demerits, 30-day suspension (licence cancellation and removal from the Graduated Licensing System (GLS) for novice drivers)

While Ontario's distracted driving laws are among the most stringent across Canada in terms of fines, demerit points, and licence suspension, two or more infractions in British Columbia within the span of 12 months can result in licence suspension for up to one year.

Beyond distracted driving, section 130 of Ontario's Highway Traffic Act considers careless driving as operating "a vehicle or street car on a highway without due care and attention or without reasonable consideration for other persons using the highway." Section 320.13 of the Criminal Code defines dangerous operation as operating "a conveyance in a manner that, having regard to all of the circumstances, is dangerous to the public." Depending on the circumstances and whether the offence resulted in bodily harm or death, penalties may include a combination of fines, imprisonment, and probation.

Distracted driving: by the numbers

Drivers are eight times more likely to be involved in a crash (or a near crash event) compared to non-distracted drivers. In some parts of Canada, including Ontario, deaths caused by distracted driving are now more common than fatalities caused by speeding or impaired driving. Nationally, a driver being distracted or inattentive is a contributing factor in more than one of every five fatalities among all road users.

Canadians appear to have noticed the danger distracted driving poses. According to CAA research, 92 percent of Canadians consider phone use to be a threat to their personal safety on the road.

Other eye-opening statistics:

  • Three seconds of driver distraction is long enough for a crash to occur
  • When travelling at 90 km/h, five seconds of distraction is equivalent to driving across a football field with your eyes closed
  • Talking on the phone and driving make an accident four (4) times more likely to occur
  • Texting and driving make an accident up to 23 times more likely as a driver's eyes are off the road 400 percent longer than an average driver
  • One in four teenage drivers admit to answering a text at least once every time they drive
  • Research suggests it takes almost 30 seconds after using a hand-held electronic device to fully return to normal, focused driving mode

Preventing distracted driving

There are many reasons why people might lose focus while on the road, but many factors that contribute to inattentiveness are preventable. For your own safety, and the safety of your passengers and other road users, consider doing the following:

  • Avoid multitasking – call, text, eat, select music, and program your GPS before shifting your car into gear, or take a break if you're able to pull over and park safely
  • Mute – many phones have settings or applications which silence notifications and/or alert people trying to contact you that you are driving and will receive their message once you've parked
  • Clean up – properly secure any loose objects to prevent them from falling onto the floor or rolling around
  • Speak up – as a passenger, you might feel embarrassed to comment on a driver's inattentive driving, but you can volunteer to be their co-pilot and offer to adjust the radio, check a map, or answer their phone if necessary
  • Sleep well – a tired driver is a much less effective driver and much more prone to distraction and delayed reactions
  • Keep calm inside – driving can be stressful enough without any distractions in your vehicle. Ask your passengers – especially children – to respect the driver's need for a calm environment. If possible, give yourself extra time to travel between appointments so that you may take a break if the atmosphere in the car becomes too chaotic
  • Support calm outside – traffic calming measures such as speed humps, rumble strips, roundabouts, median strips, and raised intersections not only slow traffic but also prevent a driver's thoughts from drifting as they navigate these physical features

If you've been hurt

Unfortunately, even safe drivers can be involved in tragic accidents, whether from a momentary lapse in their attention or as a result of another driver's (or road user's) negligence.

If you or a loved one have been seriously hurt in a motor vehicle accident in Ontario, regardless of whether you are at fault, you are eligible to make a claim on the Statutory Accident Benefits Schedule (SABS). If you were not at fault (or only partially at fault) you may also be able to claim for damages and receive further compensation for your losses through a civil lawsuit.

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.

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