As Ontario police services continue campaigns targeting distracted drivers, officers are preparing for more severe penalties that could see drivers pay more in fines and have their licences suspended.
As of Jan. 1, those pulled over will receive a summons to attend court. If you’re convicted of distracted driving for the first time, you could receive a fine of up to $1,000 (currently it’s $490) and three demerit points on your licence. A second conviction could mean a fine of up to $2,000 and a seven-day licence suspension and a third offence could mean a fine of up to $3,000 and a 30-day suspension.
“With these increased fines and driver suspensions coming in the new year, hopefully people will take it more seriously and not use their phone while driving,” OPP Const. Roop Sandhu told CKWS News on Thursday while noting drivers convicted of multiple distracted driving-related offences could also receive six demerit points.
“For the past four years on OPP-patrolled roads, inattentive driving [while using] electronic devices has been the leading cause of the majority of fatalities in Ontario.”
Sandhu said there were 83 fatalities on OPP-patrolled roads due to inattentive driving compared to 46 alcohol and drug-related fatalities.
He also reminded drivers distracted driving charges aren’t restricted to the use of cellphones. Sandhu said police could charge drivers if officers observe anything that distracts motorists from the road, for example eating, putting on make-up, turning around to grab something from the back seat, etc.
The changes were previously approved by the Ontario legislature.
On local roads, officers have also seen an increase in the amount of distracted driving charges laid – forcing some police services to take creative measures.
York Regional Police (YRP) introduced the “distracted destroyer” character in March, a fictional hockey player who goes after people on their cellphones.
The parody video released at the time shows Deputy Chief Tom Carrique speaking at a news conference before it cuts to scenes of the hockey player tackling people who have their heads down, engaged on their cellphones.
“They make it too easy. If they had their heads up, I wouldn’t hit ’em,” the hockey player said, before he checked another hockey player who “just had to check [their] Snapchat.”
YRP officers laid 5,577 distracted driving charges in 2017 to drivers using handheld devices. The number of charges last year increased by 21 per cent compared to 2016.
— With files from CKWS News