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Ontario distracted drivers now face stiff penalties

Driving while using hand-held electronic devices was outlawed before passage of the Making Ontario's Roads Safer Act. Enforcement of provisions contained in the new legislation, which amends other traffic-related legislation, is being rolled out over several months. Police in South Central Ontario recently kicked off a campaign to catch drivers violating distracted driving laws.

Before June, fines for distracted driving started at $60 and topped out at $500. The Act, also known as Bill 173, raised the minimum fine to $300 and increased the maximum fine to $1,000. Authorities are hoping the inflated penalties, including three demerit points and tough punishments for driving novices, discourage drivers from illegal use of electronic devices.

The 12 drivers pulled over and ticketed for traffic offenses during the initial, two-hour Heads Up! Campaign had been using devices to call or text employers. At any other time of day, these behaviours might be necessary, even expected. However, transportation and law enforcement officials want to make it clear operating electronic devices while driving is distracting, dangerous and illegal.

The province's minister of transportation noted a frightening number of accidents have been caused by driving distractions. If trends stay on pace, distracted drivers may be the reason for more fatal car accidents by 2016 than intoxicated drivers.

The Making Ontario's Roads Safer Act also protects bicyclists. Drivers must keep a distance of at least one metre while passing bicyclists. Demerits and fines have gone up for "dooring" – causing a bicycle crash by opening a vehicle door into traffic.

Tow truck drivers also benefit. Ontario drivers must now give roadside assistance vehicles the same courtesy as stopped emergency vehicles, by slowing down and moving left while passing parked, active tow trucks.

Traffic laws are designed to prevent injuries and save lives. Negligent drivers pay the price for ignoring the rules and may be liable for injuries suffered by accident victims.

Source: InsideToronto.com, "Driving home the perils of distracted driving," Sam Juric, July 27, 2015

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