About this time last year, my blog post titled, It Is Time To Criminalize Distracted Driving, advocated that more severe legislation should be introduced to punish distracted drivers who text or talk on the cell phone and take their eyes off the road. Federal Transportation Minister Marc Garneau has said last September that distracted driving is a big problem and promised to raise the issue with his provincial counterparts.
Yesterday, the Transportation Minister of Ontario, Steven Del Duca, announced at a news conference that the Ontario government will bring in higher fines for distracted drivers and drivers who do not yield to pedestrians. It will also introduce a new offence of careless driving causing bodily harm, with penalties that would include a licence suspension of up to five years, a fine of up to $50,000 and even jail time of as much as two years. This is very good news because even though it may still not be severe enough to a lot of people who have lost their loved ones in accidents involving distracted drivers, at least, it will send a loud message to motorists about the need to be alert at all times when they are in charge behind the wheel.
Other changes in the Ontario government proposal included drivers who fail to yield to pedestrians will face a maximum $1,000 fine and four demerit points. Distracted drivers will face a licence suspension of three days – a first in Canada – and a maximum fine of $1,000 and escalating penalties for further offences. Minister Del Duca said the plan will reach the legislature for approval some time in the fall.
Upon approval, the new Ontario law against distracted driving would be one of the strictest in the entire country. With the exception of Nunavut, every province and territory in Canada has legislation against using a cell phone while driving. Penalties range from three to five demerit points and fines from $100 to $1,000, depending on the province or the territory.
However, according to CTV News, a majority of Canadians believe that technology is the best way to stop drivers from being distracted by the phones in a new poll conducted by insurance company Aviva Canada. The poll found that 78 percent of Canadians believe only technology that stops people from texting and using other phone functions while driving will make our roads safer, not police crackdowns or peer pressure. Such technology would look like the Do Not Disturb While Driving feature on the newest Apple mobile device operating system iOS 11.
Today, more people die on Canadian roads from distracted driving than impaired driving. According to the RCMP, four out of five collisions occur when a driver has their eyes off the road for just three seconds. According to a Globe and Mail report by Oliver Moore, over the past five years, more than 450 pedestrians and cyclists have been killed in motor vehicle collisions in five most populous cities of Ontario and on roads patrolled by the Ontario Provincial Police. Last year, Moore calculated that the number of pedestrians killed in Toronto from 2011 to 2016 was greater than the number of fatal shootings. The Ontario Transportation Ministry says in its news release that on average, one person is killed on the roads of Ontario every 17 hours. In 2014, pedestrians and cyclists made up approximately 25 percent of road fatalities in the province. Many of these deaths are, of course, avoidable.
Kudos to the Ontario government for taking prompt action, but I still believe that the province needs to adopt the textalizer tests as proposed by the New York State legislature to have police digitally scan the phone of distracted drivers to see whether they were texting or posting on Facebook while driving. Most of the victims run down by motorists were older pedestrians or cyclists. As a society, we need to protect the most vulnerable by introducing more severe laws such as permanently suspending the licences of distracted drivers and longer jail terms. But the recent proposed legislation by the Ontario Transport Minister is a solid first step to change the attitudes of drivers.