Ontario Law and Targeting Distracting Driving

Edited by Admin
Ontario Law and Targeting Distracting Driving

Targeting Distracted Driving

Driving while fatigued or distracted can compromise your judgment and affect your ability to drive safely. Unfortunately, in Canada the number of accidents caused by distracted driving has increased to the point where it’s now estimated that one in five motor vehicle accidents involves at least one distracted driver. Law enforcement is dismayed by the prevalence of distracted driving practices, and it’s still unclear why drivers put themselves and others at risk. Certainly the rise of popularity of smartphones is a large part of the puzzle, but that alone doesn’t explain the increase in injuries and deaths. Experts blame a number of different factors, including the “addiction” to electronic devices, driver overconfidence, and ignorance of the law. In 2019, laws regarding distracted driving in Ontario were strengthened in an attempt to combat the increasing number of accidents caused by drivers failing to pay attention to the road.


Ontario Law

The Ontario Highway Traffic Act sets out the offense quite clearly. Section 78, Part I originally stated that “no person shall drive a motor vehicle on a highway while looking at a television, computer, or other device.” The 2019 amendments include prohibiting:

  • hand-held devices and wireless communication devices that are capable of receiving or transmitting telephone communications, electronic data, e-mail, or text messages.
  • hand-held electronic entertainment devices or other devices whose primary use is unrelated to driving safely.

However, the Act does allow for the operation of devices as long as they are in “hands-free” mode. The Ontario Ministry of Transport lists a number of permissible hands-free devices, including:

  • A cellphone that is used with an earpiece, a headset, or a Bluetooth device that uses voice-activated dialling, and then only if the device is mounted or secured.
  • A GPS screen, as long as the driver inputs all required information before starting to drive, and as long as the GPS device is mounted on the dashboard.
  • A portable media player plugged into the sound system of the vehicle, as long as the playlist is activated before driving.
  • Display screens for safety systems built in to the vehicle.
  • Ignition interlock devices.


Many people know these restrictions on the use of devices exist, but they think that they don’t apply when their vehicle is stopped at a traffic light. In fact, they do apply; there are no exemptions to these regulations except calling 9-1-1 in an emergency situation, or when the driver is lawfully parked or has safely pulled off the roadway.


Penalties for distracted driving in Ontario have also changed. In earlier years, law enforcement could issue a warning, but now a fine is mandatory, and drivers are also subject to demerit points and/or license suspension. For a first offense, the fine can be up to $1,000, and may be accompanied by three demerit points and/or a three-day license suspension. These fines and penalties increase with subsequent offenses. If, for example, you are charged with distracted driving for the third time within a five-year period, you can be fined up to $3,000, and may receive six demerit points and a 30-day license suspension. Novice drivers charged with distracted driving face lengthier license suspensions, and may lose their license completely.


Avoid Distracted Driving

You can take some simple steps to help ensure that you will not be distracted while driving. These include:


  • Putting your cellphone away. Keep your cellphone out of reach while you’re driving. If it’s in a bag with the ringer off in the trunk, you will be unable to access it, and therefore unable to be distracted by it. If you’re worried about responding to emails, texts, or phone calls, you can usually set an auto-response.
  • Making sure children are securely fastened into car seats. Young children can be very distracting to a driver, but as long as they are safely secured in car seats, their demands can wait until you are able to pull over. If you have a long journey, try to supply children with entertainment of some kind, water to drink, and whatever else they might need to stay comfortable.
  • Keeping things calm and quiet. If you have passengers, let them know that you don’t want to be distracted by too much noisy conversation or laughter. If you want to listen to music or podcasts, keep the volume at a reasonable level so that you’ll be able to hear the sounds of the road.
  • Planning ahead. Know your route! Plan before getting into the car. If you use a GPS, program it before starting the vehicle.
  • Avoiding unnecessary activities. Don’t brush your hair or apply makeup while driving. Don’t eat while driving. If you need to drink water or other beverages, wait until you are stopped at a stop light or stop sign. Don’t reach for items that are in the glove compartment or the back seat.


Distracted driving can kill. Do your best to keep yourself and others safe by keeping your eyes – and mind – on the road!