With the increased portability of technology, more drivers can stay connected with their friends and family – as well as their favourite modes of entertainment – during their commutes. Whether you remember the frustration of having to find a telephone booth to make a call or you grew up with a mobile device in your hand, there is no denying the convenience of having loved ones and all your favourite apps at your fingertips.
However, when you are driving, your fingertips should be around the steering wheel. At some point in your life, you have heard the warnings about the dangers of distracted driving, either in your driving education classes or through public service announcements produced by Ontario safety advocates. The penalties for distracted driving offences can be steep, and it may help you to understand the specifics of the province’s laws.
What behaviours does the law forbid?
Hand-held devices are banned when you are behind the wheel. This means you may not hold or manipulate your cell phone when you are driving except for turning your hands-free option on or off. The device must be secured in place, either mounted on your windshield or dashboard, and you may not scroll through its options while operating your vehicle. In fact, to avoid violating the distracted driving law, you may want to do the following before pulling out of your parking space or driveway:
- Program and activate your GPS
- Select your music playlist
- Send any important text messages
If you must change these or other features while you are driving, you would be wise to pull safely off the road or exit the 400-series highway to complete the interaction. Manipulating hand-held devices at a stop light is against the law since it increases the chances that you may miss the changing lights placing you at risk of being struck from behind.
There are several exceptions included in the law, such as dialing 911, viewing collision avoidance displays, using certain radios and devices temporarily approved for commercial drivers, and operating an ignition interlock system.
What is at risk?
A call or text may seem important at the moment, but when compared to the tragic consequences possible or the penalties you may face, you would do well to delay reading or responding until you can do so safely. A conviction for distracted driving may result in the following:
- A total of $490 in fines and fees
- Up to $1,000 in fines if you dispute the charges or if the court sends you a summons
- Three demerits on your driving record
The penalties are even harsher for drivers under the Graduated Licensing program, including licence suspension or removal from the program. You may even face criminal penalties if authorities charge you with careless driving or if your actions endanger the lives of others. To mitigate the consequences of these charges, you may find it helpful to contact a legal professional.