Distracted Driving Laws Canada
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Distracted Driving in Canada: Laws & Penalties Per Province

The rise of the smartphone has created one of the biggest dangers on the road: distracted driving.

According to the Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC), distracted driving can be just as hazardous as driving under the influence. You’re also 23 times more likely to crash if you text and drive. One study even found nearly 80% of collisions involved some form of driver inattention.

Despite the shocking statistics, nearly three out of four Canadians admit to driving distracted. You may think sending a text takes just five seconds and isn’t a big deal – but at 90 kilometres an hour – that’s equivalent to driving past an entire football field with your eyes closed

By 2008, every province and territory in Canada except Nunavut banned the use of cellphones while driving. Legislation gets updated frequently with many regions continuing to adopt harsher penalties in an effort to crack down on distracted driving.

CBC Report: Distracted driving as deadly as impaired driving

What is distracted driving?

According to the RCMP, distracted driving is more than just using your phone while behind the wheel. Distracted driving is when any distraction affects your judgement and prevents you from driving safely. 

Examples of distracted driving include:

  • Using a cellphone (talking, texting, browsing the web)
  • Programming a GPS
  • Reading a map or book
  • Watching videos
  • Eating and drinking
  • Smoking and vaping
  • Grooming (shaving, brushing teeth, applying makeup)
  • Adjusting the radio
  • Listening to loud music
  • Chatting with passengers

While distracted driving is against the law across Canada, provinces and territories follow their own set of rules so penalties can vary greatly. Depending on where you live, driving while distracted can result in fines, demerit points, and even licence suspensions.

man engaging in distracted driving offences

Go to frequently asked questions (FAQ) about distracted driving in Canada

Distracted driving laws & penalties by province and territory:

Before learning how to avoid distracted driving penalties in Canada, it’s important to understand the laws in your province or territory:

Distracted driving laws in Ontario

Despite having lower traffic volume and fewer collisions in 2020 due to the pandemic, the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) still recorded about the same number of fatalities compared to the year prior. Based on OPP data, there were 285 fatal road collisions last year, which is only 19 less than 2019. Most of the deaths were preventable, with 45 of them linked to distracted driving. 

Since 2000, deaths from distracted driving have doubled in the province. To stop this dangerous practice, the provincial government has introduced strict consequences, including a three-day licence suspension, demerit points, and a hefty fine upon a first conviction. 

Ontario’s distracted driving law mostly focuses on the use of mobile devices. It’s illegal to use your phone or any other handheld device while you’re driving or stopped at a red light. The only time you’re allowed to use your phone is to call 911 in an emergency. You’re also not permitted to operate things like tablets and portable gaming consoles, watch videos on display screens, or program a GPS (except by voice commands).

You’re allowed to use a hands-free wireless device with an earpiece or Bluetooth. It’s also okay to view a GPS display screen as long as it’s built into your car’s dashboard or securely mounted on the dashboard.

Eating, drinking, grooming, reading, smoking, and grabbing items are not included in Ontario’s distracted driving law, however you may still be charged with careless or dangerous driving if the police feel your driving ability is impaired by these distractions.

Penalties in Ontario

Offence

Fine

Demerit points

License suspend

First

$615 to $1,000

3

3 days

Second

$615 to $2,000

6

7 days

Third & further

$615 to $3,000

6

30 days

If you get a distracted driving ticket, be careful about disputing it. You could get a fine of up to $1,000 if you go to court and lose after your first conviction. The fine goes up to $2,000 for second-time offenders and up to $3,000 for third-time offenders who dispute and lose.

Novice drivers convicted of distracted driving are subject to the same fines as drivers with A to G licences, however instead of receiving demerit points, they will face longer suspensions and possible licence cancellation.

If charged with careless driving (any distractions that cause you to endanger others), you may face six demerit points, fines up to $2,000, jail time of six months, and a licence suspension of up to two years. Dangerous driving is a criminal offence with harsher penalties, including jail terms up to ten years for causing injury or up to 14 years for causing death.

Distracted driving laws in British Columbia

BC’s Motor Vehicle Act forbids the use of electronic devices while driving. That means you can’t hold, operate, or watch the screen of a phone, tablet, laptop, or any other handheld device. You’re permitted to use the hands-free function as long as the device is voice-activated, securely fixed, not obstructing the driver’s view, and not held in your hand. Unfortunately, drivers in the graduated licensing program are not permitted to use hands-free units. 

Heads up, the B.C. Supreme Court recently ruled that driving with a smartphone on your lap counts as distracted driving. You can also get a ticket for changing the song or wearing both earbuds connected to a smartphone, even if the phone is powered off. According to the B.C. Motor Vehicle Act, drivers are permitted to wear a single earbud when driving. Motorcyclists are exempt from this rule and may wear an earpiece in both ears.

Penalties in British Columbia 

If you’re caught on your phone while driving, you’ll pay a $368 fine and collect four penalty points, which is equivalent to $252 based on ICBC’s Driver Penalty Point Premium. That brings the total fine to $620. 

The Driver Improvement Program can prohibit you from driving for three to 12 months if you have two or more distracted driving convictions. If those two or more convictions occur in a three-year period, you’ll also have to pay a Driver Risk Premium, bringing the total financial penalty to as much as $2,000.

Distracted driving laws in Alberta

The RCMP issued 148 distracted driving tickets between February 22-28, 2021. They even busted a distracted driver who was busy ordering pizza over the phone. 

Alberta’s distracted driving law is stricter than other provinces and covers more than just texting and driving. 

Drivers are restricted from the following behaviours, even while stopped at a red light:

  • Using a cellphone (talking, texting, emailing)
  • Operating electronic devices like laptops, video game consoles, cameras, and portable audio players 
  • Entering information on a GPS
  • Reading, writing, and sketching
  • Personal grooming (flossing teeth, curling hair, clipping nails, shaving, putting makeup on)

Even if your driving is perfect, the police can still convict you of distracted driving for any of these behaviours. They can also lay charges if you’re engaging in other activities that affect your ability to drive safely. For example, you may get a ticket if the police feel you’re too distracted by your dog while behind the wheel.

Penalties in Alberta

A distracted driving conviction will land you a $300 fine and three demerit points. You may also find it difficult to get full insurance coverage at reasonable rates. Insurance can go up by as much as 25% after a distracted driving ticket. 

Distracted driving penalties in Saskatchewan

Two laws in Saskatchewan address distracted driving:

Cellphone legislation: It’s illegal to use or touch a cellphone while driving. Experienced drivers can use a hands-free device, but new drivers can’t.

Driving without due care legislation: The police may charge you if they find certain behaviours take your attention from the road and present a safety risk to others. These behaviours include eating, smoking, grooming, operating a GPS, reading maps, and interacting with pets or passengers.

Penalties in Saskatchewan

The penalties are almost identical for both types of legislation.

Offence

Fine

Demerit points

Vehicle seizure

First

$580

4

0 days

Second

$1,400

4

7 days – no vehicle seizure for violating driving without due care legislation

Third

$2,100

4

7 days

Distracted driving laws in Manitoba

Approximately one in three deaths on Manitoba roads involve a distracted driver, which is why the government has made it illegal to use a handheld electronic device while driving. The government also introduced short-term licence suspensions in 2018, leading to 2,529 licence suspensions in just one year.

Penalties in Manitoba

Offence

Fine

Demerit points

Licence suspend

First

$672

5

3 days

Second or more

(within 10 years)

$672

5

7 days

Distracted driving laws in Quebec

Quebec’s laws prohibit you from operating and holding any handheld portable device (phones, tablets, laptops, media players) while driving or stopped at a red light. The only exception is if you need to call 911. Display screens must be integrated into the vehicle or mounted on a bracket that doesn’t obstruct the driver’s view. The screen also needs to show information related to operating the vehicle (i.e. gas consumption, tire pressure, road conditions, trip itineraries).

Penalties in Quebec

Offence

Fine

Demerit points

First

$300 to $600

5

Repeat offence 

(within a two-year period)

$600

5

Immediate licence suspension after a repeat offence within a two-year period

Offence

Licence suspension

1st repeat offence →

3 days

2nd repeat offence → 

7 days

3rd repeat offence

30 days

You can also be fined $100 to $200 if you’re caught wearing earphones or headphones in both ears while driving.

Distracted driving laws in New Brunswick

The New Brunswick RCMP handed out over 500 distracted driving tickets in 2019. They have a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to texting and driving. It’s also forbidden to make or take calls (unless you’re using the hands-free function or calling 911), program a portable GPS, and touch devices like MP3 players and tablets while on the road. You’re allowed to use a display screen if it’s built into your vehicle.

Penalties in New Brunswick

You’ll be fined $172.50 and lose three points from your licence if you violate the legislation. 

Distracted driving laws in Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia is cracking down on distracted drivers. After causing a head-on collision in Sydney, a Glace Bay woman was recently fined $1,500 and charged with two offence tickets for using a phone while operating a vehicle and driving without insurance. The local government prohibits texting and operating any handheld device. Cellphones are only permitted in emergencies.

Penalties in Nova Scotia

Offence

Fine

Demerit points

First

$233.95

4

Second

$348.95

4

Third & further

$578.95

4

Distracted driving laws in Prince Edward Island

It’s illegal to use a cellphone, laptop, GPS, and other handheld devices while behind the wheel. You can activate hands-free technology to make calls or pull over in a safe area if you need to respond to a text or check a map.

Penalties in PEI

You’ll be handed five demerit points and fines between $575 to $1,275 if you’re convicted of distracted driving. Consequences are even steeper if you fail to stop for a school bus when its red lights flash. In this case, the fine goes up to $5,000 and your licence will be suspended for three months.

Distracted driving laws in Newfoundland and Labrador

According to the Highway Traffic Act, you can’t hold or operate a handheld device while driving, however using the device in hands-free mode is allowed. You also can’t drive a vehicle with a television set located in the front of the driver’s seat unless it’s a closed-circuit TV system or display unit that helps you operate the vehicle.

Penalties in Newfoundland and Labrador

Offence

Fine

Demerit points

First

$300 to $500

4

Second

$500 to $750

4

Third

$750 to $1,000

4

Distracted driving laws in the Northwest Territories

The Northwest Territories have banned the use of handheld electronic devices since 2012. Handheld GPS systems and any device used to transmit data or play audio and videos are restricted behind the wheel. 

Penalties in NWT

Drivers caught breaking the law will get a $322 fine and three demerit points. The fine increases to $644 if drivers are ticketed in school and construction zones. Licences are also suspended if drivers commit second, third, and fourth distracted driving offences within a two-year period.

Distracted driving laws in the Yukon

You can’t hold or operate cellphones and handheld electronic devices while driving in the Yukon. The only times you can use your device are when you’re legally and safely parked or when you’re not obstructing traffic.

Penalties in the Yukon

Penalties for full-licence holders include a fine of up to $500 and three demerit points. Graduated Driver Licence (GDL) holders convicted of distracted driving are subject to the same penalties and will also lose all driving experience hours and be forced to restart the program.

Distracted driving laws in Nunavut

Nunavut banned texting and driving in 2019, making it the last jurisdiction in Canada to do so. Drivers are not permitted to use a handheld electronic device while operating a vehicle, however they can use the device if they’re pulled over in a safe location or if their vehicle isn’t in the way of traffic. Hands-free devices are permitted. Screens are not allowed to block the driver’s field of view, but some screens are excluded from the rule, including displays built in to the vehicle and GPS systems.

Penalties in Nunavut

There are currently no formal penalties for distracted driving, however drivers are probably looking at a $115 fine for careless driving if caught texting and driving.

How to avoid distracted driving penalties

  1. Put your phone away

  2. Do you automatically reach for your phone the second it goes off? If you have this habit, it’s best to eliminate temptation by putting your phone on silent and keeping it out of sight in a bag or in the trunk. You can also download an app or use Apple’s Do Not Disturb While Driving feature to block incoming texts and calls. Many of these apps can even send automated messages to let people know you’re driving and unavailable to talk.

  3. Keep items out of reach

  4. Store purses, jackets, and other objects in the trunk or behind the seat on the ground. Doing so prevents you from reaching for them while driving and ensures they won’t go flying if you have to brake suddenly. 

  5. Plan your journey beforehand

  6. Fiddling with your GPS is a form of distracted driving and could land you a ticket. Reduce your chances of getting fined by planning your route ahead of time and programming your GPS before turning on the ignition. You should also get your GPS to call out turns and set the volume loud enough so you don’t have to look down for directions.

  7. Avoid eating, drinking & personal grooming

  8. Driving is not the time to apply makeup or brush your teeth so make sure you do all your personal grooming at home. If you want to drink water or coffee, wait until you’re stopped at a red light to take a sip. 

  9. Tell passengers to be quiet

  10. Ask noisy passengers to tone it down if you’re having trouble focusing on the road. Keep in mind some provinces limit the number of passengers travelling with a younger driver.

  11. Pull over

  12. From dealing with fussy children to reaching for fallen objects, it’s easy to get caught in an overwhelming situation when you’re behind the wheel. If the distractions become too risky, don’t hesitate to pull off the road and deal with them in a safe area.

Frequently asked questions (FAQ) about distracted driving

Can I use my phone while I’m stopped at a red light?

No. As soon as you’re in a vehicle and in a traffic lane, you’re driving. You can’t use your phone while stopped at a red light unless it’s an emergency that requires you to contact the police, fire department, or emergency medical services. Remember, accidents can happen even if the car isn’t moving. Texting at a red light means you’re unable to pay attention to cyclists and pedestrians. It also increases your chances of missing turn signals and green lights.

Does eating while driving count as distracted driving?

From a federal standpoint, yes. The RCMP even released a tweet saying Canadians may be fined $368 if they’re caught eating a bowl of soup while driving. If you’re thirsty, the RCMP recommends waiting until you’re stopped at a red light to take a drink.

Can I get a ticket for adjusting the map or changing the music on my smartphone? 

Yes, it’s possible. Both of these scenarios require using a smartphone, which can take your focus away from the road and affect your ability to drive safely. 

Can I drive with my dog on my lap?

The RCMP doesn’t explicitly list pets as an example of distracted driving, however the police may still fine you if they believe your furry friend is taking your attention away from the road. 

Driving with your dog on your lap breaches other laws in some provinces. A dog on a driver’s lap is a careless driving offence under the Highway Traffic Act in Ontario. British Columbia’s Motor Vehicle Act also considers it a violation as a pet can obstruct your view while driving.

Your dog should never be at the front of your vehicle or in your lap as they could get seriously injured and fly through the windshield in the event of a crash. Fortunately, there are harnesses, seats, and crates to keep your pet safe and secure in the back seat.

Can I be fined if a passenger is using their smartphone?

No, you won’t be fined because passengers are permitted to use their smartphones while you drive. However, if you’re deemed to be distracted by the passenger in any way, including talking to them, authorities can issue a warning or fine.

Will my insurance go up if I get a distracted driving ticket?

Yes, depending on where you live, insurance rates can increase up to 25% after a distracted driving conviction. Some insurance companies may even refuse to provide full coverage.

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