Ontario Drivers face stricter Drunk Driving and Distracted Driving Laws
In 2017, Ontario Provincial Police reported that inattentive or distracted driving had become the leading cause of driving-related fatalities in Ontario, followed by speeding and impaired driving. In fact, since the year 2000, motor vehicle accidents caused by distracted driving have doubled, according to the Ministry of Transportation. Every 30 minutes, one person in Ontario is injured in a distracted driving accident. Impaired driving is a similarly concerning driving behaviour. The Canadian Government reports that drunk driving is the primary cause of criminal fatalities in this country.
Stiffer fines for Distracted Driving
In response to the disturbing prevalence of distracted driving incidents, higher penalties for distracted driving came into effect with Ontario’s Bill 174, on January 1st, 2019. Anyone convicted of distracted driving faces demerit points, higher fines and a driver’s licence suspension. And, a ticket for distracted driving will result in higher automobile insurance premiums for at least three years.
Be aware that a wide variety of activities may contribute to distracted driving. This includes:
Texting or talking on a hand-held phone, even when stopped at a red light
Checking maps or reading of any kind
Choosing a playlist or changing a CD
Typing a destination into your GPS
Now, first-time offenders with an A to G licence will automatically receive 3 demerit points, a maximum fine of $1000 (or $615 if settled out of court), and a 3-day licence suspension. The suspension begins once the driver has been convicted of the offence, rather than at the roadside. With a second conviction within 5 years, the offender receives 6 demerit points and a 7-day licence suspension, and the maximum fine increases to $2000. Finally, three or more convictions will result in 6 demerit points, a 30-day licence suspension and a fine of up to $3000.
Novice drivers receive the same fines as noted above; however, instead of demerit points, a distracted driving conviction will result in longer suspensions: 30 days, 90 days, and cancellation of your licence, respectively. Once a licence is cancelled the driver must redo the graduated licensing system.
Impaired Drivers will be more easily identifiable
Effective December 18th, 2018, Bill C-46 enacted changes to drunk driving laws under Canada’s Criminal Code, to allow police officers to demand a roadside breath sample from any driver lawfully pulled over in connection with a traffic offence, such as running a red light or speeding. This means that police no longer require reasonable grounds to form a suspicion that the driver has consumed alcohol, when they issue a demand for a breath sample. Under such circumstances, a driver who refuses to submit to a roadside Breathalyzer test faces a criminal charge for refusing to provide a breath sample.
Drunk driving laws were also reformed to reflect an increase in fines and maximum penalties for impaired driving, particularly for drivers shown to have a higher blood alcohol concentration (BAC). First offenders now face the following mandatory minimum fines: $1500 for a BAC of .120 to .159; and $2000 for a BAC of .160 or more. And, failure to submit to a lawful demand can result in a minimum fine of $2000.
Another important change to drunk driving laws was to remove the loophole for drivers who drank in excess immediately before driving but claimed that the alcohol was not yet absorbed into their blood when they were stopped by police, despite BAC readings over the legal limit taken later at the police station. Now, drivers cannot have a BAC over the legal limit within 2 hours of driving. This change in law eliminates both the ‘bolus drinking’ defence (described above) and the intervening drinking defence (for persons who claimed they didn’t consume alcohol until after they were stopped or involved in an accident). Both actions are perceived as risky driving behaviours.
The amendments to legislation at both the federal and provincial level are intended to reduce the number of driving-related deaths and injuries in Canada and Ontario. And, be aware that these driving laws apply to all types of motorized vehicles, including cars, motorcycles, ATV’s, motorboats and snowmobiles.