Distracted driving can be just as hazardous as driving under the influence. In this article, we'll show you how the laws and penalties vary province-to-province and offer some tips on how to avoid distracted driving.
How many times have you had a snack behind the wheel, chatted with a passenger in your vehicle, checked your cellphone’s notifications on the road, or input information into your GPS while driving? Although all of these actions seem common, they’re considered driving without due care and some of them are against the law in Canada.
The Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC), the national association representing Canada’s automotive, home, and business industry, works to increase better public understanding of vehicle insurance. Since 1964, IBC has been collecting data on driving statistics in Canada, and in recent years has been reporting on one of the biggest dangers on the road: distracted driving.
According to IBC, distracted driving can be just as hazardous as driving under the influence. You might not think that a couple seconds of your eyes being off the road could land you in a major collision. However, four to six seconds that your eyes are distracted from driving is like driving across the length of a football field at 90 km/h with your eyes closed. Virginia Tech Transportation Institute states that approximately 80 per cent of collisions involved some sort of distracted driving up to three seconds prior to the event. Roughly 3 out of 4 Canadians admit to driving while distracted.
Distracted driving occurs when a driver’s attention wanders away from the act of driving. Every province has its own set of rules but there are national bans in place for using cellphones or hand-held devices while driving and, if a person is caught breaking this law, it could result in penalties. According to the National Safety Council, a distracted driver, even if looking away from the road for just a few seconds, could fail to see 50 per cent of their driving environment. Even if drivers are looking while distracted, it’s possible they might not be seeing what’s happening. There are an increasing number of Canadians who are engaging on social media while driving, which is becoming a serious road safety issue today.
The Canadian Council of Motor Transport Administrators has developed the definition of distracted driving as: “The diversion of attention from driving, as a result of the driver focusing on a non-driving object, activity, event, or person.” Distracted driving reduces a driver’s awareness, decision-making, and performance which can lead to driver-error and accidents. As distracted driving becomes more prominent, it’s in your best interest to avoid factors causing distraction behind the wheel, while at the same time, being mindful of drivers around you who may or may not be distracted themselves.
Before learning how you can avoid distracted driving penalties in Canada, it’s important to understand the laws in your province:
Fines for distracted driving in Ontario can be anywhere from $615 to $3,000 with three to five demerit points. In Ontario, deaths from distracted driving have doubled since 2000.
Texting and driving in Ontario is illegal. It is illegal to use a cellphone or any other hand-held wireless communication device to text or dial and view display screens or program a GPS system, even if stopped at a red light.
Holding a cellphone while behind the wheel is illegal in Canada. However, it is legal to use a hands-free wireless device with an earpiece or Bluetooth, and GPS display screens can be used while driving if they’re built into the vehicle’s dashboard.
Although other actions like eating, drinking, smoking, reaching for objects and reading are not considered under Ontario’s distracted driving law, a driver involved in an accident due to any of these distractions can be charged with careless or dangerous driving.
Drivers caught while driving distracted face a first offence fine of $543, a second offence fine of $888 and four demerit points.
Legislations in British Columbia consider distracted driving to be one of the riskiest moves behind the wheel.
Any activity that prevents a driver’s ability to focus on the road – distractions from both inside and outside of the vehicle – can impact a driver’s full observation of the road.
Approximately one-quarter of vehicle collisions in British Columbia are attributed to distracted driving, and research shows that telephone conversations are much more distracting than in-vehicle conversations.
Alberta’s Distracted Driving Law restricts drivers from using hand-held cellphones, texting and emailing, using camera and portable audio players, entering information on GPS units, reading behind the wheel, and personal grooming.
Even if a person’s driving is perfect, if caught breaking the Distracted Driving Law, they could be penalized and charged with a $287 fine and three demerit points.
Activities that are not restricted under the law include using a cellphone in a hands-free mode, using one earphone, drinking beverages, eating, smoking, talking with passengers, calling an emergency service, and using hand-held radios in commercial vehicles.
In Saskatchewan, distracted driving is one of the top three factors involved with fatal vehicle collisions. Driving while drowsy is also considered a form of distracted driving as your attentiveness to react to potential dangers on the road is reduced.
Driving Without Due Care includes eating, using a GPS system, reading maps and personal grooming.
These activities aren’t considered illegal; however, they can pose a risk to road safety which could land you a driving without due care ticket if a collision occurs.
Under Saskatchewan’s Traffic Safety Act, it is illegal to use and hold a cellphone while driving. If caught, drivers will face a $280 fine and four demerit points. Experienced drivers can use hands-free devices but only if they can be activated with voice command or one-touch.
According to Manitoba’s Highway Traffic Act and the Drivers and Vehicles Act, drivers caught using a cellphone or another hand-operated electronic device while behind the wheel are subject to a three-day license suspension and a seven-day suspension for a subsequent occurrence within 10 years.
Drivers also face a $672 fine and five demerit points. In Manitoba, distracted driving was the lead cause of collisions in 2017, and continues to pose a risk for driving as it can increase the risk of collision by nearly four times.
As distracted driving minimizes a driver’s capacity to analyze a situation on the road and react, laws in Quebec prohibit any driver to use a cellphone or any other portable device behind the wheel.
However, drivers are allowed to use an earphone in one ear and driving while using hands-free devices, although not particularly a safer option, is tolerated. If caught driving distracted, drivers can face a $300 to $600 fine and five demerit points.
It is illegal to make and take telephone calls behind the wheel of a vehicle in New Brunswick unless the telephone is hands-free or single-touch, or if it is an emergency.
By law, it is also illegal to text and program a GPS system while driving. If a display screen in your vehicle is built into the dashboard, like an MP3 or GPS, is it legal to use. However, the use of all electronic devices, unless it’s a two-way radio for operating a commercial vehicle, are illegal and could result in a $172.50 fine and three demerit points.
Nova Scotia has implemented fines for drivers who text and use hand-held devices behind the wheel. In 2015, the province increased the fines for distracted driving to $233.95 for first offence and $578.95 for a third offence with the addition of four demerit points on conviction.
In Prince Edward Island, it is illegal to text, dial, email or search using a hand-held communication device while behind the wheel.
Drivers can use hands-free technology activated by a single touch or pull over in a safe area off the road to talk or text. However, cellphones, GPS systems, and laptops are illegal to use and if caught will result in a fine from $572 to $1275 and four demerit points.
In June 2018, Newfoundland and Labrador implemented a new offence under the province’s Highway Traffic Act for driving without due care.
Drivers caught driving while distracted, increasing the risk of an accident or bodily harm to others on the road, will be fined $100 to $400 and four demerit points.
The Northwest Territories have placed a ban on using hand-held electronic devices since 2012. Any device used to transmit and receive messages, play audio or video record are restricted behind the wheel. Drivers who don’t comply with this law and are caught could face charges ranging from $322 to $644 and three demerit points.
Ignoring a notification while you’re behind the wheel might not seem like a life-or-death situation. However, it only takes a couple seconds for something to go seriously wrong. Here are a few tips that could help you avoid distracted driving penalties and reduce your risk of collisions and bodily harm.
Turning off your phone’s notifications seems like an obvious, no-brainer suggestion, but does anyone? When we receive a notification, our brains respond with a surge of dopamine from hearing a ring, buzz or ding coming out of our cell phones or other electronic devices. Typically, without even thinking, we check our technology to see who is trying to reach us and why, and often this occurs while on the road. If you’re getting in the car to drive, either turn your phone off or put it in silent mode so you don’t hear notifications or are tempted to engage with your electronic device. Doing so could save a life.
If you’re often on the road for long periods of time, downloading an app on your smartphone that lets you block incoming texts and calls can help you avoid distractions from mobile devices altogether. There are a ton of applications available that block calls and messages and these apps can send out automated messages to let the people who are trying to reach you know that you’re currently driving and unavailable to talk. Apple’s Do Not Disturb While Driving feature lets your phone detect when you might be driving and automatically blocks notifications. If you own an Apple smartphone, ensure this feature is turned on via your settings tab to maintain full focus while driving.
Cellphones and electronics aren’t the only forms of distracted driving. Distractions inside of the vehicle like talking with other passengers, dealing with children and animals, programming a GPS system, eating and reaching for a fallen object are just a couple examples of driver distractions. If you’re behind the wheel and find yourself caught in an overwhelming situation, don’t hesitate to pull off of the road into a safe area to deal with distractions. You’ll not only be doing yourself and your passengers a favour, but you’ll be reducing the risk of an accident for others on the road.
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