Ontario: Distracted driving news

Last updated: December 18, 2017
Ontario’s government is introducing legislation that would slap distracted drivers who kill or maim with two years in prison and fines up to $50,000. Basic distracted driving offenses would come with license suspensions of three days (first offense), seven days (second) and then 30 days (subsequent convictions). The minimum fine for basic distracted driving violations could rise from $300 to $500, with a maximum of $2,000 for second offenses and $3,000 after that, according to plans for new roadway laws. Multiple convictions would bring 6 demerit points. The current maximum penalty for distracted driving offenses is six months in jail and $2,000, plus demerit points. The legislation would create a new category for causing a death or serious injury. “These proposed changes will make Ontario the first jurisdiction in Canada to have a license suspension for those convicted of distracted driving and give us the toughest penalties for repeated distracted driving convictions in the country,” Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca said in late September. The Liberal government plan could take as long as two years to enact.

police in ontarioDistracted drivers killed at least 47 people on Ontario’s roads and highways as of late August 2017. That’s up from 39 distraction-related deaths for the same period last year. Ontario Provincial Police pinned 6,360 wrecks on distracted drivers. That’s more than speeding and impaired driving combined. “Our collision data is compelling evidence that drivers who text, talk on their cell phone or are distracted in some other way, take a tremendous toll on the safety of those who share the road with them,” OPP commissioner Vince Hawkes said.

Ontario police say 65 people died in distracted driving crashes in 2016. That makes it the No. 1 killer on the province’s roads for the fourth-straight year. Second in fatalities was speeding (55 deaths), followed by failure to use seat belts (53). Drunken driving came in fourth. The numbers were reported in March 2017. With the exception of 2012, inattentive drivers have taken more lives on OPP-patrolled roads than speeding and alcohol-impaired drivers since Ontario distracted driving laws took effect in 2009, police said. “Road deaths linked to distracted drivers will not let up unless every road user says ‘enough is enough’ and shows a complete intolerance for what continues to be the most life-threatening driver behavior on our roads,” OPP Commissioner Vince Hawkes said.

Ottawa police said they’d generated about a million dollars in distracted driving fines in 2016, as of mid-October. Almost 2,200 tickets have been handed out, police said. They wrote about 400 of them over the Thanksgiving Day holiday, police said in a news release.

Inattentive drivers are on pace to kill more people than drunken drivers this year in Ontario, police say. As of mid-August, the Ontario Provincial Police investigated 38 road deaths in which an inattentive driver was involved, compared with 19 deaths involving an impaired driver. “Since 2009, our officers have investigated more than 600 road deaths that involved an inattentive driver,” said OPP Deputy Commissioner Brad Blair.

Four ONroute Highway Service Centres have been designated “Text Stops,” offering a safe way for drivers to stop and text. They are King City, Cambridge North, Woodstock and Port Hope.

Toronto’s City Council asked the province to enact a ban on text messaging by pedestrians who are crossing streets, but was rejected. “We have no plan to make changes to the Highway Traffic Act in response to this request,” Ontario Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca said in mid-July. The plan came from Toronto councilor Frances Nunziata, who said pedestrians have the same responsibility as drivers to remain distraction free while in traffic. Del Duca said the city could enact its own law. The city is hashing out its own road safety plan. Del Duca’s advice to pedestrians: “Keep your head up when crossing the road and always be aware of your surroundings.”

A Nipissing MPP seeks the establishment of highway “texting zones,” similar to those in use in New York. MPP Vic Fedeli. Areas such as parking lots or rest areas could be designated texting zones, identified by signs along the King’s Highway. “The Safe Texting Zones Act sends a clear message to drivers that there is no longer an excuse to endanger themselves and those they share the road with,” Fedeli said. He filed the plan as a private member’s bill in mid-April. Read the texting zones bill.

Police in Toronto have issued almost 100,000 charges against distracted drivers since 2009, an official said in May 2016.

Ontario Provincial Police report 260 fatal motor vehicle collisions for the full year 2015, with 299 people killed. Of those crashes, 69 were linked to inattentive driving, OPP said. That was the third consecutive year that distracted driving was the leading cause of traffic deaths in the province. “OPP officers have laid approximately 20,000 distracted driving charges throughout the province, which is more than double the number of impaired driving charges they laid over the same three-year period,” police said in a March 2016 statement. Total crashes linked to distracted driving numbered about 7,300.

Ontario teens are getting the message about texting & driving, a new survey suggests. The percentage of teenagers who said they “sometimes” or “almost always” texted while driving was 6 percent in 2014, way down from 27 percent two years before. The lead researcher from the University of Regina said the reason most frequently given for stopping the practice was “the perceived danger and irresponsibility of the activity.”

Fines for distracted driving in Ontario now range from $300 to $1,000 — with three demerit points vs. the driver’s license — under a law that took effect Sept. 1, 2015. The set fine for drivers who plead guilty is $490, plus the points. The update to the Highway Traffic Act — approved by lawmakers June 2 — is the work of transportation minister Steven Del Duca, who cited the “really, really horrific risk” of distracted driving behaviors. Previous fines ranged from $60 to $500, but no points, after an increase in March 2014. Demerit points are now common across Canada. “Ontario’s roads are among the safest in North America and this new legislation is intended to keep it that way,” Del Duca said of the latest hike and addition of points. The new punishments began after another public education campaign. The amendments included other roadway safety measures.

Ontario Provincial Police are reporting three deaths from distracted driving only three weeks into the new year of 2015. Distracted driving last year was the second-deadliest cause of fatalities, OPP reported (speed was No. 1).

New transportation minister Steven Del Duca has revived legislation that would stiffen penalties for distracted driving, including the adoption of demerit points. The announcement was made Oct. 22. Fines will range from $300 to $1,000 with three demerit points vs. the driver’s license. “Our legislation will help keep pedestrians, drivers and cyclists safe on Ontario’s roads,” Del Duca said. Premier Kathleen Wynne, citing the dangers of texting and driving, said: “It’s a real problem and that’s why we’ll be reintroducing the legislation.” The Liberals’ previous transportation legislation (below) expired as a result of the June 12 election. Fines were increased in March 2014, but no points came into play.

Ontario provincial police handed out 11,500 distracted driving tickets in the first seven months of 2014.

Forty-five deaths in Ontario can be laid to distracted driving so far in 2014, OPP says. Distracted driving was the second-deadliest cause of fatalities as of early October, Ontario Provincial Police say (speed was No. 1). “Drivers have it within their means to end (these) road deaths … because these are not ‘accidents’ that occur through no one’s wrongdoing. … the tragic result is always related to poor driving behavior,” said OPP Deputy Commissioner Brad Blair. The distraction-related deaths count of 45 in 2014 compares with 68 for all of 2013, OPP reported Oct. 7.

Texting & driving is rampant among high school students in Ontario, the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health reports. Almost half (46 percent) in Grade 12 said they’d text messaged while behind the wheel in the past year, the annual study of mental and physical health and risk behaviors found. “We were surprised to find that so many young people are taking this risk,” said lead researcher Dr. Robert Mann. For drivers in grades 10-12, about a third admitted to the behavior. Female drivers were slightly more likely to text & drive than males.

Distracted drivers in Ontario are looking at maximum fines of $1,000 and three points vs. their licenses under the new “Keeping Ontario’s Roads Safe Act.” (Update: This measure died with the June 2014 election.) Transportation Minister Glen Murray introduced the legislation March 17, calling it “an all-party bill” that was likely to be approved by lawmakers. Distracted driving fines would range from $300 to $1,000 under the plan. The current range is $60 to $500. Some fine increases went into effect March 18 (below). Read more about the proposed Ontario distracted driving penalties.

Electronic distracted drivers face $280 out-of-pocket for convictions as of March 18. The 45 percent increase of $125 is attributed in part to the controversial victim surcharge and higher court costs. Ontario’s Transportation minister said the decision “to proactively increase the fine amount” for texting and handheld cell phone use would help cut down on distracted driving — although safety advocates continued to push for demerit points that would affect insurance rates. Transportation Minister Glen Murray said Feb. 25: “Distracted driving is one of the fastest-growing causes of death… When you’re driving while talking on your phone, you’re not just putting your own life at risk, but everyone else’s as well. We are looking at legislative and regulatory options.”

The push to add demerit points to Ontario’s penalties for electronic distracted driving continues, although nothing is certain. Officials say they’re getting “a lot of complaints” about the problems caused by texting and mobile phone use by drivers. “There will be action coming, whether it’s regulations, whether it’s legislation or some combination of education and new penalties,” Transportation Minister Glen Murray said Oct. 23, 2013.

The city of Ottawa is lobbying provincial politicians to assign demerit points to distracted driving violators. The City Council voted unanimously Oct. 8, 2013, to support the additional penalties, which would come on top of $155 fines. Mayor Jim Watson will be pushing for the update of the Highway Traffic Act.

Distracted driving killed more people in Ontario last year than did drinking and driving, police say.

In 2012, 83 people died in distracted driving crashes in Ontario, Provincial Police reported in April 2013. “Distracted driving was a causal factor that surpassed our impaired driving fatalities in 2012,” the police highway safety chief said.

The OPP wrote almost 16,000 distracted driving tickets in 2012. Police ran a distracted driving sweep April 15-22, 2013, targeting not only texting and use of handheld cell phones, but all forms of inattentive driving, such as eating and drinking, grooming, and dealing with children and pets.

In London, police handed out 1,234 traffic tickets for use of handheld electronic devices while driving in 2012. The number was 1,092 in 2011. Meanwhile, London Police are working social media via the hashtag #TEXTnDRIVE155 — the 155 as in distracted driving fines of $155.

The province has extended the exemption for CB radios from the hands-free distracted driving law. The 2009 law allowed for several years of CB use to give truckers time to find alternatives. The exemption now expires in 2008, Transport Topics reported Sept. 26, 2012.

More than 200 people have died on the province’s roads and highways so far in 2012, Ontario Provincial Police reported. That means fatalities are up 25 percent over last year’s figures (as of the end of July).

OPP said its officers wrote 164 tickets over the Civic Day weekend. That’s far less than the count for speeding tickets province-wide (6,500) but more than impaired driving {131), according to numbers released Aug. 7.

Distracted driving is considered a factor in as many as half of 2012’s fatal crashes, OPP reports. “Tragedy could be only an inattentive moment away,” the transportation minister warned as he announced a safety sweep at the start of the Civic Holiday weekend, July 31.

Toronto’s mayor defended his reading of documents while driving, saying he was “a busy man.” Mayor Rob Ford was photographed doing the paperwork Aug. 14. Reading while driving is not specifically covered under the province’s distracted driving law. Police addressed the distracted driving incident on Facebook, urging Ford to “please get a driver.” Ford said it would be a waste of taxpayers’ money. He previously was involved in an exchange with a fellow driver who asked him to get off the cell phone, and he apparently gave her the finger.

An Ontario appeals judge has ruled that police may not ticket drivers who are holding their cell phones for a moment but not using them. The decision is binding on other traffic judges. The case involved a Toronto woman whose cell phone fell to the floor as she stopped for a light. She was ticketed for holding the device after retrieving it. The Hamilton Spectator cited several sources as saying the case could lead to more court challenges and fewer tickets. Ontario’s distracted driving law of 2009 prohibits operation of a motor vehicle “while holding or using a hand-held wireless communication device.” The judge’s decision came in July 2012 against protests from the Crown.

The series of passenger videos nabbing Toronto Transit Commission drivers as they text and drive continues. A train operator was caught texting while operating a train on the Yonge-University-Spadina line in late April. The TTC says it has a “zero tolerance” policy toward distracted driving, but isn’t interested in more passenger videos. More than two dozen drivers have been suspended and at least one was fired, the TTC says.

Ontario provincial police’s sweep of Feb. 13-19 seeking violators of the handheld cell phone and texting law produced 2,454 tickets. It was the fourth and final crackdown under the “Phone in One Hand, Ticket in the Other” distracted driving campaign. “We’d prefer the number of drivers charged each day was zero,” said provincial traffic safety spokesman Larry Beechey. “This is a clear indication that we have a great deal of work to do yet.”

OPP reported that as of late February, nine people already have died in accidents linked to distractions — more than alcohol and speed combined.

Results are far from scientific, but observational studies show distracted driving thrives in some of Candada’s major cities.

Students participating in an Allstate Insurance “Blow the Whistle” campaign counted more than 800 distracted drivers over the period of an hour at busy intersections in Moncton, Montreal and Toronto (one intersection per city). Insurance agents in Calgary, Edmonton, Sudbury, Ottawa, Windsor and Halifax spotted an additional 619 drivers. “All Canadian provinces now have distracted driving legislation in place, but it is not enough,” an Allstate spokesman said.

Eating and drinking were the most common distractions, while talking on a phone or texting made up 15 percent of all distraction citations, the report said.

Ottawa police said they wrote 227 tickets for distracted driving in November 2011. There was an emphasis on distracted driving that month under the city’s Selective Traffic Enforcement Program, which focuses on different problem areas each month.

Toronto police ticketed more than 700 motorists for violations of the province’s text messaging and cell phone laws during its mid-July 2011 road safety sweep.

Week 2 of Ontario’s distracted driving sweep ran July 11-17. Week one of the crackdown — tagged “Phone in One Hand, Ticket in the Other” — brought more than 1,600 citations (May 16-22). The fine for using handheld cell phones is $155 (CAN).

Ontario Provincial Police wrote more than 1,600 tickets for distracted driving over the 2011 Victoria Day weekend. Stepped-up enforcement was part of Canada Road Safety Week. OPP says fatalities on its patrolled roads are down 9 percent in 2011’s first quarter. The OPP wrote 8,522 citations in 2010, it said.

Toronto transit officials reportedly suspended 27 drivers for distracted driving violations in the first quarter of 2011. All but one got his job back, but the way is cleared for termination with a subsequent offense. The other driver was terminated. TTC riders filed 78 distracted driving complaints in February 2011 alone.

The Toronto Transit Commission says thanks but no thanks to riders’ photos and videos of bus drivers texting and talking on cell phones. Riders posted several pictures of drivers texting during the week of Jan. 23, 2011. Another rider sent the Toronto Star a shot of a driver reading a book while on the road.

“What we don’t want to see happen is people getting on board vehicles with their cameras rolling, taking pictures, it doesn’t help in our efforts to improve customer service,” a TTC representative said at the end of the week. “We don’t want this game of gotcha to be played out on the TTC.” Instead, the transit service asked for phone reports. The drivers union reportedly complained about the photos being taken.

In Toronto, police ran a one-day distracted driving sweep on Thursday, Nov. 24, yielding more than 70 tickets.

In Ontario, police handed out 45,975 tickets to distracted drivers in the period from from Feb. 1, 2010 (when active enforcement began), to Dec. 31, 2010. Fines of $155CAN didn’t kick in until Feb. 1.

A year after enforcement of the province’s handheld electronic devices ban, Toronto Police say they’re citing about 40 motorists a day.

Ontario’s law officers have cited more than 20,000 motorists for distracted driving infractions in the seven months since full enforcement of its law began in February 2010. Grace periods had been in effect since the law became official in late October 2009.

Ontario’s legislature voted unanimously on April 22, 2009, to ban motorists from text messaging, using handheld cell phones and other electronic devices connected with distracted driving. It went into effect Oct. 26. A previous plan to prohibit Ontario motorists from using cell phones without hands-free devices was shot down in October 2008.

The Ontario Medical Association had pushed for a ban on cell phone use in Canada while operating a vehicle, saying it is clear that any activity such as dialing, typing or reading a text message is unsafe for drivers and those around them.


  1. Brian Wieland says:

    I totally agree with Mike plus I’ve been recording offenders licence numbers, the date and time. Who knows in the new year things might improve……..

  2. I think the fine should be $500 for first offense. 2nd offense should be $1000 and 3rd offense should be $5000 and 30 days in jail. I used to ride my mountain bike a lot and I was amazed amount of people talking on their cell phones while driving. None of them even noticed me and some cut me off.

  3. Brian Wieland says:

    Ontario fine is only $155.00 it should be at least $500.00
    People are NOT laking this law seriously enough and the police don’t really care about the law!!!

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