December 29, 2018 7:43 pm
Updated: December 30, 2018 10:11 am

Stiff new penalties for distracted, impaired driving in Ontario begin on Jan. 1

WATCH ABOVE: Road safety advocates are welcoming new distracted driver penalties which come into effect at the start on 2019. Matthew Bingley reports.

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After years of calls from advocates to crack down on distracted and impaired driving, stiff penalties passed by the Ontario government will come into force on Tuesday.

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“Some people are going to be startled to find that it’s as significant a penalty as a risk to the public,” Brian Patterson, president and CEO of the Ontario Safety League, told Global News on Saturday while praising the province’s legislative changes.

“We’re balancing the risk to the public for this outrageous behaviour with the penalties that are now attached to it. It’s not just inconvenient, it’s life-threatening.”

When it comes to distracted driving, if convicted, drivers could face a three-day licence suspension, a fine of up to $1,000 and three demerit points. If there are second and third convictions within five years, the fines double and triple, respectively. Each instance would also result in six demerit points. Drivers would lose their licence for seven days upon the second conviction and 30 days upon the third conviction.

READ MORE: Impaired driving SGI’s traffic focus to start 2019

Drivers with G1 and G2 licences could face 30- and 90-day licence suspensions upon first and second convictions, respectively. A third conviction could result in a licence cancellation.

There are also several new financial penalties being added for impaired driving convictions.

Patterson said he’s hopeful the number of distracted driving incidents will decrease in 2019.

“We’re going to start to see change, and hopefully by the summer a lot of people have adopted better driving practices, full stop,” he said.

“At the end of the day, I’m more concerned that people know it’s high risk than they’re going to lose their licence or pay more in insurance. You have a responsibility to know what the rules of the road are.”

WATCH: On Dec. 18, Canada implemented new impaired driving laws which gives police officers across the country more power to catch suspected impaired drivers.

Toronto police Const. David Hopkinson said statistics show an increased risk of a crash, adding the new penalties should send a message.

“It’s shown statistically that if you’re distracted while driving, using your cellphone and that kind of thing, you’re four times more likely to be involved in a collision,” he said.

“It’s not just about the fines — the fines are stiff. They’re stiff to send a message that our community and legislators believe in people not being distracted, and being focused on their driving.”

Hopkinson said while many think of cellphones when it comes to distracted driving laws, the definition and reasons for being pulled over are broader.

“Food can be one, sometimes putting on makeup, any number of different things that take someone’s attention away from where it properly should be,” he said.

READ MORE: Despite harsher penalties, distracted driving persists in Manitoba

For those being checked for impaired driving, Hopkinson noted a new law that recently came into effect allowing officers to ask for a breath sample without any indication of alcohol being consumed.

“With that new power, it gives more tools to try to combat drinking and driving,” he said.

With New Year’s Eve just days away, Mothers Against Drunk Driving spokesperson Carolyn Swinson encouraged people to plan ahead if they’re going to be celebrating.

“I don’t think there’s anybody out there who (doesn’t) know that you shouldn’t be getting behind the wheel of a car after you’ve been drinking,” she said.

“We hope 2019 is going to be a good year, but we want people to think about before they even set foot out of the house to make plans how they’re going to get home safely.”

Swinson encouraged party hosts to be responsible and make sure food and non-alcoholic drinks are available to guests as well as to make plans for those who have had too much to drink.

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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