Ontario’s Making Ontario Roads Safer Act would see the introduction of fines up to $1,000 and the loss of three demerit points for distracted driving.

Getting caught fiddling with your phone while driving will now cost you more than before.

Getting caught fiddling with your phone while driving will now cost you more than before.

Who hasn’t fiddled with their cellphone while driving, started through a crosswalk before a pedestrian has completely reached the other side, or forgotten to check the rearview mirror for oncoming cyclists before opening the car door?

Common as these bad habits are, they’re also highly dangerous. That’s why it’s good to see politicians of all stripes at Queen’s Park agree to increase the penalties starting this fall for these common misbehaviours.

Among other measures, the Making Ontario Roads Safer Act, which received unanimous consent last week, would see the introduction of fines up to $1,000 and three demerit points for distracted driving. (Previously fines ranged from $60 to $500 and, more importantly, drivers lost no demerit points. Those willing to pay a fine got off easy.)

The tougher new laws are welcome because distracted driving now eclipses drunk driving in causing fatalities. Ontario Provincial Police say there were 78 distracted driving deaths in 2013, compared to 57 for impaired driving and 44 caused by speeding.

And the legislation cannot come soon enough for young people who are clearly not getting the message about the dangers of texting while driving.

Hurtling down a road while pecking at a smartphone keyboard increases the risk of a collision by, according to one estimate, 20 times. But a province-wide survey by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health found more than a third of those with a driver’s licence in Grades 10 to 12 reported texting while behind the wheel in the previous year. That’s an estimated 108,000 teenagers breaking the law – endangering their own lives and those of others.

The new legislation will also:

  • Apply current alcohol-impaired sanctions to drivers who are drug-impaired.
  • Require drivers to let pedestrians cross the road completely before proceeding at school crossings and pedestrian crossovers.
  • Increase fines and demerit points for drivers who “door” cyclists.
  • Require drivers to maintain a minimum distance of one metre when passing cyclists where possible.

Now that the legislation has passed unanimously, the government is putting out the message that distracted driving is dangerous. Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca will launch an education campaign before the law takes effect. He rightly notes that a “cultural transformation” is required to drive home to motorists that driving requires 100 per cent of their attention.

That education campaign can’t start soon enough, as we head onto the roads for summer vacations.

Source: The Toronto Star