Distracted drivers in Ontario will face the toughest penalties in Canada for talking or texting on hand-held smart phones under legislation revived by the Liberal government Tuesday.
Motorists can expect fines of up to $1,000 and the loss of three demerit points under the bill — which was first tabled last March but did not pass before the spring election was called — proposed by Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca.
While Ontario’s roads consistently rank among the safest in North America, “there is still much more work the province can do and must do,” Del Duca said in announcing “much stiffer fines.”
Del Duca’s bill to be introduced in the legislature Tuesday afternoon would hike fines from the $60 to $500 range to between $300 and $1,000 and three demerit points.
Currently no points are accumulated for using a smartphone while driving.
Demerit points can push motorists’ auto insurance rates higher, giving extra incentive for drivers to avoid getting tickets from police.
The legislation would also apply existing alcohol impaired sanctions to drivers who are drug impaired, crack down on repeat drunk driving offenders and boost safety for cyclists and pedestrians.
Del Duca said more than 45 per cent of drivers killed in Ontario were found to have drugs or a combination of drugs and alcohol in their system.
Drivers would be required to wait until a pedestrian has completely crossed the road before pulling ahead at school crossings and pedestrian crossings, and drivers who “door” cyclists would see increased fines and demerit points.
A motorist convicted of injuring a bike rider with their car door would see the fine go from the $60 to $500 range to between $300 and $1,000 and three demerit points instead of two.
As well, drivers would have to keep one metre away from cyclists “where practicable.”
The legislation comes as distracted driving outpaces impaired driving and speeding as the leading cause of death on the roads.
Ontario Provincial Police said there were 78 distracted driving deaths last year compared to 57 for impaired 44 for speeding.
The OPP laid 19,000 distracted-driving charges in 2013, up from 16,000 the year before.
In the legislature’s daily question period, New Democrat MPP Cheri DiNovo (Parkdale-High Park) urged Del Duca to nix plans by the transit agency Metrolinx to put up electronic billboards along Toronto freeways, saying they are a major distraction for drivers which the Toronto Paramedic Association recently warned would “place us all at greater risk of death and injury.
“Metrolinx should be in the business of safe travel, not making money from driver distraction,” DiNovo said. “Will the Minister of Transportation tell the madmen of Metrolinx to get out of the billboard business and get back to the business of transit?”
Del Duca would not tip his hand but acknowledged he has received a letter of concern from the paramedic association.