Our monthly series on trends in Canadian law enforcement continues today with a look at distracted driving. In our previous posts we’ve looked at topics like Cybercrime and Fentanyl Abuse. Each of these subjects serves to demonstrate the daunting range of challenges faced by Ontario police services and Canadian Public Safety officials — the strategies demanded to curb drug addiction could scarcely be further from anti-hacking tactics, while tackling the social norms that lead to distracted driving requires a different tool set altogether. Today’s police must be better educated than their predecessors to cope with the complexities of the job, which has led to online BA programs tailored to working police officers.
This article will define distracted driving, examine Ontario distracted driving law and explore what police are doing to create change.
What is distracted driving?
Distracted driving is exactly what it sounds like: driving with less than your full attention on the road ahead.
Of course, we are human, and we all juggle tasks while we’re at the wheel: fiddling with the radio dial; swatting at a bee who is, if anything, even more alarmed by her situation; mentally re-enacting every embarrassing situation of the day when we should be checking our blind spots. But distracted driving has been thrust into the spotlight by the rise of mobile devices, leading to more and more drivers talking,texting and emailing behind the wheel. Innocent as it may seem at the time, distracted driving has an all-too human cost.
In 2014, legendary Canadian filmmaker Werner Herzog was commissioned to create a short documentary on the subject. He interviewed several drivers who had accidentally taken lives as a result of being distracted. The result is powerful and haunting, and worth watching if you have the time, both as a PSA and as cinema.
- According to the Government of Ontario, deaths resulting from distracted driving have doubled since the year 2000.[i]
- Even while using a hands-free setup, drivers who are talking on the phone are up to four times more likely to get in an accident.[ii]
- In August of 2016, distracted driving deaths caused 38 deaths in Ontario—compared to 19 attributed to drunk or impaired driving.[iii]
- The average text takes five seconds to type and send. At 90km/h, that is the equivalent of travelling the length of an American football field with your eyes closed.[iv]
How do distracted driving laws in Ontario work?
Simply holding a phone or any communication device while driving in Ontario is illegal. Police are taking the issue very seriously, and the penalties are considerable.
- For A to G licence holders, you can expect a fine between $490 and $1000, and three licence demerit points if convicted of distracted driving
- Careless driving is a more serious infraction, typically laid down when your distracted driving actively endangers others. You may receive a $2000 fine, receive six licence demerit points, be suspended from driving for up to two years, and even face six months in jail.
- Finally, if the matter is judged to be dangerous driving, where you cause bodily harm or death, you could see a jail term of 10 to 14 years.
What are Ontario police doing about distracted driving?
Police and lobbying groups like Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) have had great success reducing the prevalence of drunk driving, which even a few decades ago was much more socially accepted than it is today. Ride programs, more consistent enforcement, and extensive public awareness campaigns have made a strong impact on drivers. More and more passengers today would refuse to get into a car with an intoxicated driver behind the wheel.
Today police are trying to inculcate the same sentiments with regard to texting while driving. Because the police cannot have eyes in every vehicle on the road, it’s up to both law enforcement and society to change the culture around distracted driving. Laws forbidding holding onto to phones and other devices while driving have led to the popularity of dash-mounted GPS devices and hands-free sets for those who rely on their phones for navigation or absolutely need to take calls on the go. Most car manufacturers have also transferred a number of controls from the dash to buttons mounted on the wheel, allowing drivers to adjust temperature or change the music without taking their hands off the wheel.
While these solutions are not comprehensive, police are investing significant resources into education, and instructing highway patrol officers to be more vigilant to signs of distracted driving than ever before.