That’s the new set fine for distracted driving, one of several revisions to Ontario’s rules of the road that came into effect Tuesday, Sept. 1. While the legislation, the Making Ontario’s Roads Safer Act, addresses numerous elements of road safety, it’s the hefty hike in fines for distracted driving that is leading the way, according to police and safety advocates.
“I think this is going to be a significant step forward when you look back at it in the rearview mirror five years from now,” said Brian Patterson, president and CEO of the Ontario Safety League.
“I think we’ve been able to convince the government to put the weight on the activity that is most dangerous to the public: distracted driving.”
Sergeant Glenn Courneyea of the Durham police traffic services unit is also hopeful the revised penalty schedule for distracted driving will help address a problem that has become more profound as smartphones have become ever more prevalent.
“It has now surpassed impaired driving as the leading cause of death on our roadways,” he said.
On Tuesday Durham police launched a safety blitz to coincide with the new laws, a three-day effort aimed at educating drivers about the dangers of driving while distracted.
“The fine is secondary to us,” Sgt. Courneyea said. “We want to get the education aspect out there.”
The Making Ontario’s Roads Safer Act is a sprawling piece of legislation that could fairly be described as an omnibus bill on highway safety. It touches on numerous aspects of road safety, ranging from new regulations for the length of transport trucks, new rules for driver conduct at pedestrian crosswalks, and measures to increase safety for cyclists and tow-truck drivers.
The legislation is the result of an extensive review of Ontario’s Highway Traffic Act and related laws. That review included input from law enforcement and safety advocacy organizations, said Ministry of Transportation spokesman Ajay Woozageer.
“At various times over the last two years, the ministry consulted with key stakeholders, formally and informally, on the road safety issues underlying all of the proposals,” he said.
“The initiatives were arrived at based on reviews of jurisdictional best practices, evaluations of Ontario’s existing road safety programs, and collaboration with federal, provincial, and territorial partners as well as key road safety stakeholders to identify proven or promising interventions,” Mr. Woozageer said.
New laws and fine schedules are being implemented over the next couple of years, with several taking effect Sept. 1.
As of January 2016, rules for school crossings and pedestrian crosswalks will change, requiring drivers to yield the entire roadway to pedestrians. That means people crossing must have cleared the roadway entirely before drivers can proceed.
In the fall of 2016 it’s expected that new penalties will be introduced for drug-impaired driving, to mirror those imposed on drivers impaired by alcohol. In the spring of 2017, the Province is expected to expand its program of licence plate renewal denials to drivers who fail to pay fines for offences such as speeding, improper lane changes, driving without insurance and careless driving.
The legislation promises to make Ontario’s roads, already among the safest anywhere, even safer, said Mr. Patterson.
“We’ve got the safest roads in North America,” he said. “But road safety is a continuous improvement operation.”
He’s hopeful another party will step up in the fight against distracted driving: cellphone companies themselves. He’d like to see phone companies introduce features to encourage drivers to turn phones off while driving — or, at the least, take a leading role in the campaign to promote safe cellphone use.
“I’d like to see greater education, and I’d like to see it funded by the cellphone industry,” Mr. Patterson said. “It is their customers and their product that is leading to this carnage, and I think they should take responsibility.”
Sgt. Courneyea agrees that while fines are one way to address poor driver behavior, ultimately it’s changing that behaviour through education that will make roads safer.
“One of the things we want to get through to people is that phone messages can wait,” he said. “Not watching the road for even a few seconds can have a huge impact on your life.”
HOW THIS IMPACTS YOU
New laws and fine schedules are being implemented over the next couple of years, with several taking effect Sept. 1. Here’s an example of what became law Tuesday:
• The set fine for distracted driving increases to $400, plus a $90 victim surcharge and three demerit points upon conviction.
• Novice drivers convicted for distracted driving receive a 30-day licence suspension.
• A new one-metre minimum “buffer zone” is required when passing a cyclist. The set fine is $85 but that increases to $150 in Community Safety Zones. Two demerit points are applied upon conviction.
• The threshold for reporting a property damage collision increases from $1,000 to $2,000 in combined damage.
• An $85 fine is established for bicyclists who do not comply with night-time lighting requirements.
• The road shoulders are added to Unsafe Lane Change clauses, with a set fine of $85 ($150 in Community Safety Zones).
• Motorists must now slow down and move over for tow trucks at the side of the road, in addition to emergency service vehicles. The set fine for failing to do so will be $400.