Ontario has consistently ranked first or second in road safety in North America for 13 years, and new legislation, Bill 173 – Making Ontario’s Roads Safer, will help keep it at the top.
The Honourable Steven Del Duca, Minister of Transportation, says “We are a recognized, world-class leader in road safety because of our tough laws, our strong enforcement and the dedicated work of our many road safety partners.”
The bill, in its second reading in front of the legislature, says Del Duca, will increase the maximum fine for distracted driving to $1,000 from $500, the minimum fines to $300 from $60 and add three demerit points upon conviction.
It will also add a distracted driving prohibition to the graduated licensing system.
According to Del Duca, a person who uses their cellphone while driving is four times more likely to be in an accident.
Bob Nichols, Senior Media Liaison Officer for the Ontario Ministry of Transportation, says distracted driving may include the use of cellphones, organizers and laptops, reading maps or other materials, grooming activities, eating or drinking, and tending to children or pets.
According to the most recent Ontario collision data, in 2011 there were 70 drivers involved in fatal collisions that were classified as inattentive by police officers, says Nichols.
Police across the province have issued almost 300,000 distracted driving charges since 2009, he says.
There has been a 39 per cent increase in the number of fatalities ruled inattentive by police from 2002-2011, and a 26 per cent increase of injuries, he says.
Nichols says despite Ontario’s record of success with road safety, on average one person is killed on our roads every 18 hours and one person is injured every eight and a half minutes.
If collision trends continue, fatalities may exceed those numbers by 2016.
Anyone who endangers others because of distracted driving can also be charged with careless driving and receive serious punishment.
Nichols says, “Drivers will automatically receive six demerit points, fines up to $2,000, and or a jail term of six months.”
Del Duca says the bill also includes requirements for drivers who are impaired.
This includes making repeat impaired driving offenders “complete intensive alcohol education, treatment and monitoring programs,” he says.
Other penalties for impaired driving are longer license suspensions, immediate vehicle impoundments, and requirement for ignition interlock.
The legislation is also looking to increase fines and demerits for motorists who hit cyclists with their car doors, says Del Duca.
Penalties play an important role in improving driver behaviour, however.
Nichols says, “It has been our experience that there is no easy solution to changing inappropriate driving behaviour and that changing this behaviour requires a broad approach. We continue to believe strongly that in addition to legislation and enforcement, the key to success in combating all forms of distraction is education and awareness.”