Nowadays, we rely on our smartphones for practically everything—which is why distracted driving has become an increasingly common issue in Ontario. Regardless of the type of motor vehicle you’re driving, taking your eyes off the road for even a second to check your phone can result in serious—and entirely preventable—accidents. 

Distracted driving is more than a dangerous practice, however. Distracted drivers may face fines or criminal charges if caught driving while distracted. 

Below, we’ll discuss what distracted driving looks like, the consequences of distracted driving, and tips for drivers to stay safe on Ontario roads. 

What is Distracted Driving? 

Distracted driving refers to driving while your attention is not solely focused on the road, and can affect your ability to drive safely. And while smartphones are one of the most common examples of distracted driving, many things can take attention away from the road. For example, beyond using your smartphone, some of the following practices could be considered distracted driving: 

  • Eating or drinking; 
  • Smoking or vaping; 
  • Putting on makeup; 
  • Talking with other passengers in the car; 
  • Adjusting car settings (e.g., tuning the radio); 
  • Reading, watching videos, or listening to loud music; or 
  • Driving with an animal in your lap. 

While most of these examples are self-explanatory, the reality is that many drivers do these things every day on the road, as evidenced by the statistics relating to distracted driving discussed below. 

Statistics Relating to Distracted Driving

Distracted driving fatalities have doubled since 2000, and one person is injured in an accident caused by distracted driving every half hour, according to the Ontario government

Additionally, drivers using their phones while driving are four times more likely to crash than those focusing exclusively on the road. 

It’s clear that distracted driving is a significant cause of motor vehicle accidents in Ontario—so what penalties are out there for driving while distracted? 

Penalties for Distracted Driving in Ontario 

In Ontario, you can face penalties for distracted and careless driving under Ontario’s Highway Traffic Act, R.S.O. 1990, c. H.8. We’ll discuss the laws and applicable penalties below. 

Distracted Driving and the Highway Traffic Act

Under s. 78 of the Highway Traffic Act, R.S.O. 1990, c. H.8, drivers must ensure that no display screens are visible while driving. 

However, there are some exceptions to this rule. For example, you can use your car’s GPS  (if you are using it for navigation information) or other vehicle systems that provide information on the vehicle’s status. You can also use collision avoidance systems while driving, providing that the system has no other function than collision avoidance. 

Additionally, s. 78.1 of the Highway Traffic Act, R.S.O. 1990, c. H.8 prohibits drivers from using (or even holding) a “hand-held wireless communication device” or an “electronic entertainment device” while driving unless they are using hands-free mode.

Penalties for Distracted Driving under the Highway Traffic Act 

If you’re caught driving while using a screen or smartphone in Ontario and convicted, you may be required to pay a fine as follows: 

  • First offence: a fine between $500 and $1,000
  • First subsequent offence: a fine between $500 and $2,000
  • Second or additional subsequent offence: a fine between $500 and $3,000

Furthermore, the Registrar may suspend your licence if you are convicted of an offence, as follows: 

  • First offence: a three-day suspension
  • First subsequent offence: a seven-day suspension
  • Second or additional subsequent offence: a 30-day suspension 

The penalties are even more severe if you are a novice driver or have an A to G licence. You can expect to pay higher fines or receive longer suspensions. 

Careless Driving and the Highway Traffic Act

Under s. 130 of the Highway Traffic Act, R.S.O. 1990, c. H.8, drivers are prohibited from driving “carelessly”—meaning, driving a vehicle without due care and attention or reasonable consideration for other people using the highway. 

Unlike ss. 78 and 78.1, which applies to driving while using screens or electronic devices, s. 130 applies more broadly to driving in a manner that limits your ability to adjust to changing circumstances on the highway. As a result, you could find yourself “driving carelessly” in a wide range of circumstances (such as those discussed earlier in this blog post). 

Section 130(3) contains an additional offence for careless driving causing bodily harm or death when a driver causes bodily harm or death to a person while driving without due care and attention or reasonable consideration for others.

Penalties for Careless Driving under the Highway Traffic Act 

If caught driving carelessly in Ontario and convicted, you may be required to pay a fine between $400 and $2,000. In addition, you may be imprisoned for six months or less, and your licence may be suspended for up to two years. 

If you are caught driving carelessly in Ontario and cause bodily harm or death, and you are convicted, you will face more severe consequences. Here, convicted drivers may be required to pay a fine between $2,000 and $50,000, be imprisoned for two years or less, and have their licence suspended for up to five years. 

Distracted and Careless Driving and Personal Injury Claims 

Beyond the penalties imposed by the Highway Traffic Act, R.S.O. 1990, c. H.8, distracted and careless drivers may find themselves involved in accidents—and either a claimant or defendant in a personal injury claim if the accident injures either party. 

Avoid Distracted Driving with our Helpful Tips 

While it may be tempting to check your phone, adjust your hair, or otherwise take your eyes off the road while driving, the consequences of being caught driving carelessly or while distracted aren’t worth it. Below, we’ve provided just a few tips for drivers to help them avoid driving while distracted: 

  • Prepare for your drive: Often, we’re tempted to engage in distracting behaviours while driving because we didn’t take the time to prepare in advance. Before you set off for a drive, take the time to plan out your route, check your phone, grab a snack, and get ready for whatever is waiting for you at your destination. By preparing yourself for your drive, you can avoid the temptation of multitasking while on the road. 
  • Secure your distractions: Prepare your car for the drive by securing any loose objects. If you have pets in the car, ensure they are adequately restrained and secure anything that might move around during the drive, like smartphones or personal bags. 
  • Set the tone: If you enjoy listening to podcasts or music while driving, set your playlist or podcast up before you start driving to avoid the temptation of using your phone or stereo while driving. 
  • Take breaks when necessary: If you need to check your phone or a distraction arises while driving, pull over and take the time to address it before you begin driving again. Not only will short breaks help you avoid distractions and careless driving, but they can also help reduce fatigue on longer trips. 

Personal Injury Lawyers Serving Clients in Ottawa, Eastern Ontario, and North Bay

Our dedicated team of lawyers at Tierney Stauffer LLP helps people injured in accidents caused by distracted or careless drivers. We will fight to get you the compensation you need so that you can heal from your injuries and move on with your life. Call us at 1-888-799-8057 or contact us online to set up a free consultation with a member of our personal injury team


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