The new licence suspensions and $500 minimum fines for distracted driving should remind Ontario motorists not to text and drive, a spokesperson for CAA South Central Ontario predicts.

“We hope this is going to serve as a deterrent,” CAA SCO government relations manager Elliott Silverstein said Monday, in an interview, of the new penalties that took effect Jan. 1.

“It’s not going to change behaviour overnight but we have only seen the growth of the smartphone over the last five to 10 years.”

CAA SCO is part of the CAA Club Group of Companies, which also includes CAA Insurance Company.

Until 2015, the minimum fine for distracted driving in Ontario was $60 and the maximum fine was $500. With the passage in 2015 of Bill 31, the minimum fine was raised to $300.

Highway Traffic Act changes that took effect Jan. 1 raised the minimum fine, on a first offence, to $500. A first offence also results in a three-day licence suspension.

“The license suspension adds an extra element that wasn’t there before,” Silverstein said Monday.

The licence suspension for a second offence is seven days and repeat offenders with more than two distracted driving charges face 30-day suspensions of their driver’s licences.

Maximum fines are now $1,000 for a first offence, $2,000 for a second offence and $3,000 for a third offence.

In Ontario, it is a provincial offence to drive on a highway “while holding or using a hand-held wireless communication device or other prescribed device that is capable of receiving or transmitting telephone communications, electronic data, mail or text messages.”

“People need to remember, their responsibility behind the wheel is driving and they can put their phone away, have their navigation system setup and then get on the road,” Silverstein said.

He suggested distracted driving is a problem in all regions and in all demographic groups.

“This is a novice driver issue. This is a veteran driver issue,” said Silverstein. “This is a situation where people think they can handle the multi tasking but at the end of the day they are putting themselves and others at risk.”

Smart phones are not the only problem. The Highway Traffic Act stipulates that distracted driving includes driving “while holding or using a hand-held electronic entertainment device or other prescribed device the primary use of which is unrelated to the safe operation of the motor vehicle.”

There is an exception for using devices in hands-free mode.

It is illegal in Ontario to have a display screen of any device – including a television or computer – visible to the driver.

There are several exceptions – including a GPS navigation device and a “logistical transportation tracking system device used for commercial purposes to track vehicle location, driver status or the delivery of packages or other goods.”

Other exceptions include vehicle gauges and collision avoidance systems, provided that collision avoidance is their only function.

Source: Canadian Underwriter