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Pay attention to your defence after a distracted driving offence

As a daily commuter, your vehicle may feel like a second home to you. You might do many of the same things in your car that others do at home. Listening to music, checking email, having a quick bite to eat or applying a bit of makeup: these are all tasks many drivers perform behind the wheel. 

Although it may not be noticeable, when you're not 100 percent focused on driving, the chances of being in an accident increase dramatically. Even a moment's inattention can lead to a collision. If you've ever found yourself driving distracted, or if you've ever had a close call, you should know what's legal and what's not while driving.

Defining distracted driving in Ontario

According to the Ottawa police, anything that diverts your attention from the road can be considered distracted driving. This could be anything from tuning the radio to picking up a French fry you dropped between your legs. However, neither of those actions is illegal; they're just potentially dangerous.

In order to lay a charge of distracted driving, an officer would have to catch a driver in the act of using a hand-held electronic device. Such devices include: 

  • IPods/MP3 players
  • Cellphones/Smartphones
  • BlackBerrys
  • GPS devices

It is important to note that the list is not limited to cellphones. It is illegal to operate a handheld entertainment device while driving, such as while scrolling through an IPod looking for a favourite song.

Many people feel it's ok to use a phone or electronic device while stopped at a red light or stop sign. While this may seem safer, it's still illegal. If you absolutely must check your device, you'll have to pull off the road and park somewhere where you're not holding up traffic.

The devil is in the details

The police do admit that having a device in your lap is a bit of a grey area. Technically, it is not illegal to have a portable device sitting in your lap as you drive. Once you look down at it or touch it, it becomes a chargeable offense.

Even if you're not using it, it is illegal to hold a phone or other device in your hand while you drive. You can, however, mount the device at around eye level and use it on speakerphone, so long as you touch your phone only once to either answer a call or hang up. 

The fines distracted drivers face

A couple of years ago, the fine for distracted driving increased to a minimum of $490. Add to that three demerit points and you could be facing a serious burden. If the police catch you for a third time, you could end up with a suspended license. Of course, matters will be much worse if the accident ends up injuring or killing someone.

It is not always possible for an officer to accurately assess if a driver was actually using a restricted device. Because of the somewhat subjective nature of the offence, there may be opportunities to fight back. A fight like that, however, might be best left to a professional in criminal defence work.

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