Distracted driving issues making headlines in Ontario

Fines set to rise while OPP reports high number of distracted driving deaths

Distracted driving has been making the news quite a bit in recent weeks in Ontario. First, a judicial order on February 18 raised the fine for distracted driver from $155 to $280, then, on March 3, the Ontario Provincial Police announced that distracted driving was the number one cause of death on Ontario’s roads in 2013. These stories highlight both the dangers of distracted driving and how seriously the issue is now being taken by the police, courts and society as a whole.

Fines set to rise

According to The Toronto Star, Annemarie Bonkalo used her authority as chief justice of the Ontario Court of Justice to raise the fines for distracted driving significantly. Ontario, unlike other provinces, allows judges to set fines for certain offences.

The new fine, set at $280, is set to come into force March 18, 2014. Meanwhile, the provincial government is currently looking at other ways to stiffen penalties for drivers who disobey distracted driving laws. Among the new measures being considered are demerit points for people guilty of distracted driving offences.

OPP: Distracted driving biggest killer on the road

Less than two weeks after Chief Justice Bonkalo’s decision to raise fines came a report from the OPP saying that distracted driving has now become the biggest killer on Ontario’s roads.

According to CBC News, OPP statistics show that 78 people died due to crashes caused by distracted driving in 2013. That figure compares to 57 deaths caused by impaired driving and 44 deaths due to speed-related accidents.

Ontario has some of the stiffest distracted driving laws

Two cases from 2013 are relevant to the issue of distracted driving in the province as they both helped to uphold Ontario’s tough distracted driving laws. In the first case, R. v. Kazemi, the accused claimed her cell phone fell on the floor and, when she was stopped at a red light, she picked up the phone. It was at this point that a police officer saw her handling the phone and charged her under section 78.1(1) of the Highway Traffic Act. The defendant argued she was not actually using her phone while driving.

In the Kazemi case, the judge ruled against the defendant as even picking up the phone showed that she had handled the device and thus violated the law.

Similarly, in R. v. Pizzurro, the defendant was charged under the same section of the HTA, but he argued that because the police could not prove that his phone was operational at the time that the police could not justify the charges.

The court again disagreed with the defense, ruling that the officer was right to simply assume that the cell phone was functioning. The court further stated that requiring police to absolutely prove that a cell phone is operational would create a “significant challenge for law enforcement.”

Distracted driving and personal injury

As these cases show, Ontario courts and police are less forgiving nowadays with drivers who do not pay attention to the road. Unfortunately, distracted driving often leads to accidents, which in turn can cause serious injuries to other drivers or pedestrians. Anybody who has been injured by a distracted driver should contact a personal injury lawyer as soon as possible. Such a lawyer can help determine what kind of compensation the victim is due from the negligent driver, even if the at-fault driver is uninsured or underinsured.