According to Ontario traffic statistics, on average one person is injured in a distracted-driving collision every 30 minutes, and a driver using a phone is four times more likely to be involved in an accident than a driver paying full attention to the road. In 2014, distracted driving was responsible for one in every five traffic fatalities in Ontario.
Ontario’s Highway Traffic Act (HTA) makes distracted driving illegal. It also penalizes drivers who drive carelessly, whether or not they do so because of a distraction.
Last year, the HTA was amended to impose higher penalties on drivers convicted of distracted or careless driving. For careless driving, those higher penalties took effect September 1 of this year. The increased penalties for distracted driving will become effective on January 1 of next year.
Drivers should keep these penalties in mind while driving as motivation to drive safely. But the more important issue for drivers to consider is not is not the legal consequence of unsafe driving, but the heavy physical, emotional, and financial cost of causing a motor vehicle accident because of inattentiveness or carelessness.
Article at a Glance
Article at a Glance
- The Ontario Highway Traffic Act has been amended to provide higher penalties for careless driving causing bodily harm or death and failing to yield to pedestrians. Those changes took effect September 1, 2018.
- The Highway Traffic Act will also impose higher penalties on drivers convicted of distracted driving starting January 1, 2019.
- These penalties play an important role by dissuading unsafe driving habits, but drivers should also be mindful of the human cost that careless or distracted driving imposes on others.
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New Penalties Effective September 1, 2018
Some of the changes to penalties that Ontario has enacted became effective September 1, 2018, including penalties for careless driving causing bodily harm or death and failing to yield to pedestrians in certain circumstances.
Careless Driving Causing Bodily Harm or Death
A person is guilty of the offence of careless driving if he or she drives a vehicle on a highway without due care and attention or without reasonable consideration for others highway users.
Since 2010, section 130 of the Highway Traffic Act has provided that drivers convicted of careless driving face the following penalties:
- A fine of between $400 and $2,000;
- Imprisonment for up to six months; and
- Suspension of driver’s licence or permit for up to two years.
These penalties remain in force for careless driving that does not result in bodily harm or death.
However, in 2017 the HTA was amended to include higher penalties in cases where careless driving does cause bodily harm or death. Those new penalties, which became effective September 1, 2018, include:
- A fine of between $2,000 and $50,000;
- Imprisonment for a term of up to two years; and
- Suspension of driver’s licence or permit for up to five years.
In addition, when determining what penalties to impose on a person convicted of careless driving that causes bodily harm or death, courts are required to consider evidence that the person injured or killed was particularly vulnerable to injury by careless driving—for example, because he or she was a pedestrian or cyclist.
Failure to Yield to Pedestrians
In addition to the new penalties for careless driving that results in bodily harm or death, the penalties for failing to yield to pedestrians at crosswalks, school crossings, and crossovers are also increasing. Before September 1 of this year, such offences were punished by a fine of up to $500. Starting September 1, that fine increased to up to $1,000.
Further Penalties: Demerit Points in Ontario
In addition to the penalties described above for careless driving and failing to yield to pedestrians, Ontario law also penalizes drivers with demerit points for such behaviours. A driver will receive six demerit points for careless driving and four (up from three before September 1) for failure to yield.
The Ontario Ministry of Transportation uses the demerit point system to further penalize drivers who commit repeated traffic law violations. Demerit points remain on your driving record for two years after you earn them, and if you earn too many, you will be penalized. For a new driver (a driver with a G1, G2, M1, M2, M1-L, or M2-L licence), the penalties are:
- 2 to 5 points: You will receive a warning letter.
- 6 to 8 points: Your licence may be suspended, or you may be required to attend an interview to give reasons why it should not be. There is a $50 fee for demerit point interviews, and if you fail to pay the fee, your licence will be cancelled.
- 9 or more points: Your licence will be suspended for 60 days.
For a driver with a full licence, the penalties are:
- 2 to 8 points: You will receive a warning letter.
- 9 to 14 points: Your licence may be suspended, or you may be required to attend an interview to give reasons why it should not be. There is a $50 fee for demerit point interviews, and if you fail to pay the fee, your licence will be cancelled.
- 15 or more points: Your licence will be suspended for 30 days.
If your licence is suspended, you must surrender it. If you fail to do so, you can lose it for up to two years.
Changes to Distracted Driving Penalties Effective January 1, 2019
One of the most common causes of motor vehicle accidents in Ontario is distracted driving. To combat this problem, the province since 2010 has prohibited the use of handheld devices or display screens visible to the driver while a car is being driven.
Currently, the penalties for violating those prohibitions are a fine of between $300 and $1,000 and 3 demerit points.
But starting January 1, 2019, the penalties will increase as follows:
- First offence: A fine between $500 and $1,000 and licence suspension for three days.
- Second offence: A fine between $500 and $2,000 and suspension for seven days.
- Third or subsequent offence: A fine between $500 and $3,000 and suspension for 30 days.
The Real Problem with Distracted or Careless Driving
Ontario’s increased focus on preventing distracted or careless driving is a welcome change. But it’s important to look beyond the legal penalties that the province attaches to such behaviour to understand the real risks posed—and the real reason why every Ontario driver should pay attention to the road and drive carefully.
Careless or distracted driving often results in accidents that seriously injure or kill the driver, his or her passengers, or other users of the road. This human cost is so much worse than the fines, demerit points, suspensions, and even imprisonment that the province imposes on careless drivers.
If you’ve been injured in an automobile accident in Ontario as the result of another driver’s carelessness or distraction, you should contact an Ontario personal injury lawyer for help obtaining the compensation that Ontario law entitles you to. Contact Preszler Law Firm today for a free consultation to help you understand your rights.