Will tougher sanctions help the Ontario Government address distracted driving?

Accidents & Fatalities

The Ontario Provincial Police have stated since 2015 that distracted driving is the leading cause of driving related fatalities. Other provinces in Canada, including British Columbia are drawing the same conclusion as Ontario. The Government needs to address distracted driving, which is causing roadside fatalities. But will imposing tougher sanctions solve the problem? Probably not.

Distracted Driving

While overall fatalities may be on the decline, the leading cause of fatalities is distracted driving. OPP and Regional police forces are determined to get the message across to the public, and they should. They have employed new tactics while investigating traffic offences, and have lobbied the public and government by trying to educated members of the public with the risks associated with distracted driving. In my view, this is a great start, but the government and police will encounter certain obstacles in trying to eradicate the problem.

  • Driver Behaviour – When the legislation first came out against cell phone use, some offenders would use the phone in their lap, in order to try and avoid detection. This created an even greater risk and distraction. Tougher legislation may only serve to reinforce this behaviour.
  • Court Resources – The Prosecution may struggle to handle the volume of Trials. Before new tougher legislation came into effect, there were resolutions that existed that allowed an offender to plead guilty to a lesser charge. The Defendant would still have to pay a hefty fine which would serve as a specific and general deterrent, but would avoid costly insurance premiums. The new legislation eliminated this possibility, and we are already starting to see almost every cell phone offence go the distance in our traffic court. Problem, too costly to tax payers, and only benefits insurance companies.
  • Taxation – The Regional Governments, the Ministry of Transportation, and other policy makers are heading in the wrong direction when it comes to solutions. The consensus amongst regional government policy makers is to take away a motorists right to have a Trial, and impose Administrative Monetary Penalties (AMP’s) which takes tickets out of court, and puts them in a totally new system, where no evidence needs to be proven against you. Simply put, you are guilty, so pay us. Although the Regional Governments are correct that this approach would save taxpayers a lot of money, it is not worth sacrificing our fundamental rights, and doesn’t address the issue of Driver Behaviour.

Imposing tougher sanctions

Recently, the Ontario government passed new legislation on December 12, 2017 to toughen up driving sanctions for motorists who commit the offence of “Drive Hand-Held Communication Device”, contrary to s. 78.1(1) of the Ontario Highway Traffic Act. The new penalties include a mandatory 3 day licence suspension upon the 1st conviction, 7 day suspension for a subsequent suspension, and 30 days for anyone who commits a second subsequent conviction. The toughening of these sanctions by the Ontario Liberal Government is in response to advocacy groups, police, and other stakeholders who have compiled the data that distracted drivers are the leading cause of accidents in Canada.


Tougher sanctions will not work. Convicted drivers with 3 day suspensions will in some cases, certainly risk driving while under suspension. They may even take greater risks while using their phone, in order to avoid detection by police. While the police, government, courts, and the public monitor the situation, the last piece of the puzzle remains, technology. Education, Enforcement and Penalties will not be enough on their own in order to try and address distracted driving behaviour. Technology must be implemented in order to bring the high rate of fatalities down as much as possible. A recent poll conducted by Aviva insurance also confirmed the Canadian public believe technology will be the solution to this problem.

Governments could work with the big automotive companies, and telecommunication manufactures to introduce technology that would prevent such distraction. While innovation continues to catapult itself into our lives, there is no doubt that driver behaviour is a top of mind issue more than ever in 2018. But we all need to take a balanced approach to address the issue. Education, Enforcement, Penalties, and Technology will be the catalyst in addressing driver behaviour in 2018, and will be the key to addressing roadside fatalities and careless driving accidents.


There are several options to address distracted driving behaviour. Cell phone companies are implementing blocking technology through apps, according the National Safety Council. The base features for such applications prohibit communication while a vehicle is in motion. Features, similar to air plane mode on the IOS 11 platform for Apple IPhone, also has made available a feature which includes, “do not disturb while driving” function. Another, more sophisticated product developed in Louisiana called Groove can detect who is driving versus who is a passenger, and disable communication accordingly. This product may make the most sense, as passengers should remain unaffected from complete blocking technology.

As the demand to address the problem continues to grow, there is no shortage in the innovation department as many believe technology is the key to solving our distracted driving problems.


The following is a collaboration between our Jennifer Birch and guest:
Brian Morris – Owner of Lighthouse Legal Services

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