New penalties should prompt change in driving habits, CAA says
Tough new penalties for distracted driving, such as texting and calling on cellphones, came into effect Jan 1.
“It’s an opportunity to change your habits, and make sure you are focusing on driving,” said Elliott Silverstein, government relations manager of the Canadian Automobile Association in South Central Ontario.
From new licence suspensions and demerit points to increased fines, using handheld devices while driving now has deeper and longerterm impacts on drivers, he said.
“It could have an impact on your ability to work and to get low insurance rates. It could affect your life down the road.”
As of Jan. 1, drivers caught using their cell phones or other handheld devices will be fined up to $1,000, get three demerit points and lose their licence for three days. The minimum fine for that first offence, if settled out of court, will rise to $615 from $490.
Drivers with a second offence in five years will be fined up to $2,000, get six demerit points and lose their licence for six days.
Drivers with more than two offences within five years will be fined up to $3,000, get six demerit points and lose and their licence for 30 days.
Novice drivers caught texting, calling or otherwise using their handheld devices will face the same fines as other drivers, but won’t lose demerit points.
However, they’ll get a 30-day licence suspension on a first offence, 90-day suspension for a second conviction and the cancellation of their licence and removal from the graduated licensing system on a third conviction.
The new rules catch up to the continued invasion of technology into modern life, and should act as a greater deterrent to drivers who think they can handle that technology while on the roads, Silverstein said.
Impaired driving incidents spike at night and on weekends, but the use of handheld devices to text, call, look at maps or choose music happens all the time, he said.
“This is happening in morning and afternoon rush hours, night time, daytime, with young and old drivers. It’s a systemic issue.”
In 2013 in Ontario, one person was injured in a distracted driving collision every half hour, according to provincial government statistics.
A driver using a phone was four times more likely to crash, the province said.
The penalties for distracted driving have been increasing gradually during the years, but some drivers probably felt the previous fines were simply a cost of doing business, Silverstein said.
The increased penalties should make people think twice about using their handheld technology, he said.
Distracted driving deals primarily with the use of handheld technology, Silverstein said.
Eating, grooming or similar behaviours while at the wheel could be subject to a careless driving charge, he said.
Careless driving convictions can result in fines, demerit points, jail terms and licence suspensions of up to two years.