There has been much discussion in Ontario news recently regarding changes to the Highway Traffic Act in regards to distracted driving. Bill 31, the Transportation Statute Law Amendment Act (Making Ontario Roads Safer Act), received unanimous support on June 2, 2015 and is set to become law this fall. Currently, section 78 of the Highway Traffic Act reads that:
“Display screen visible to driver prohibited
78. (1) No person shall drive a motor vehicle on a highway if the display screen of a television, computer or other device in the motor vehicle is visible to the driver. 2009, c. 4, s. 1.
(2) Subsection (1) does not apply in respect of the display screen of,
(a) a global positioning system navigation device while being used to provide navigation information;
(b) a hand-held wireless communication device or a device that is prescribed for the purpose of subsection 78.1 (1);
(c) a logistical transportation tracking system device used for commercial purposes to track vehicle location, driver status or the delivery of packages or other goods;
(d) a collision avoidance system device that has no other function than to deliver a collision avoidance system; or
(e) an instrument, gauge or system that is used to provide information to the driver regarding the status of various systems of the motor vehicle. 2009, c. 4, s. 1.
(3) Subsection (1) does not apply to the driver of an ambulance, fire department vehicle or police department vehicle. 2009, c. 4, s. 1.”
Section 78, details electronic devices such as computers or other entertainment devices that are prohibited from being viewed by the driver. Devices such as GPS units, logistical transportation tracking systems, collision avoidance systems, or vehicle displays related to the operation of the vehicle are exempt. A general exemption is made for drivers of ambulances, fire department vehicles, or police vehicles. With Bill 31, the important amendment to this section will be:
(5) Every person who contravenes this section is guilty of an offence and on conviction is liable to a fine of not less than $300 and not more than $1,000. 2015, c. 14, s. 22.”
The new penalty section will effectively double the fine that can be issued under this area of law and certainly puts more teeth into preventing drivers from driving and viewing display devices not relevant to their driving.
Section 78.1 of the Highway Traffic Act is perhaps more familiar to most Ontario drivers as it deals specifically with cell phone use while driving:
“Hand-held devices prohibited
Wireless communication devices
78.1 (1) No person shall drive a motor vehicle on a highway while holding or using a hand-held wireless communication device or other prescribed device that is capable of receiving or transmitting telephone communications, electronic data, mail or text messages. 2009, c. 4, s. 2.
(2) No person shall drive a motor vehicle on a highway while holding or using a hand-held electronic entertainment device or other prescribed device the primary use of which is unrelated to the safe operation of the motor vehicle. 2009, c. 4, s. 2.
Hands-free mode allowed
(3) Despite subsections (1) and (2), a person may drive a motor vehicle on a highway while using a device described in those subsections in hands-free mode. 2009, c. 4, s. 2.
(4) Subsection (1) does not apply to,
(a) the driver of an ambulance, fire department vehicle or police department vehicle;
(b) any other prescribed person or class of persons;
(c) a person holding or using a device prescribed for the purpose of this subsection; or
(d) a person engaged in a prescribed activity or in prescribed conditions or circumstances. 2009, c. 4, s. 2.
(5) Subsection (1) does not apply in respect of the use of a device to contact ambulance, police or fire department emergency services. 2009, c. 4, s. 2.
(6) Subsections (1) and (2) do not apply if all of the following conditions are met:
1. The motor vehicle is off the roadway or is lawfully parked on the roadway.
2. The motor vehicle is not in motion.
3. The motor vehicle is not impeding traffic. 2009, c. 4, s. 2.”
Again, here we see the various exemptions similar to those in HTA s.78. Ambulance, fire, and police motor vehicle drivers are exempted as are devices being used in ‘hands free mode.’ Subsection (6) also details an exemption for vehicles that are off the roadway or lawfully parked on the roadway AND the vehicle is not in motion AND the vehicle is not impeding traffic. It is not uncommon to see a client in my office who may have fulfilled one or two of these conditions but not all three in being able to lawfully use their cell phone under this exemption.
Similar to HTA s.78, the new amendment to s.78.1 due to Bill 31 will be:
(6.1) Every person who contravenes this section is guilty of an offence and on conviction is liable to a fine of not less than $300 and not more than $1,000. 2015, c. 14, s. 23.”
The new amendment makes the potential court fine for driving while operating a cell phone double the previous amount. Certainly road safety is in everyone’s interest and the other costs outside of court fines for distracted driving can included increased insurance costs, vehicle repair costs, civil lawsuits for death or injury to another person, or your own personal death or injury. Research shows that cell phone use while driving can quadruple your chance of being in a collision and that removing your eyes from the roadway for as little as two or more seconds can double your chance of a collision.
Another important change under Bill 31 is that a conviction will now result in a 3 demerit point penalty. Previously a conviction would result in a record of conviction being entered into your driving history, but that record did not include a demerit point penalty being applied.
If you have been stopped and charged by the police under Highway Traffic Act section 78 or 78.1 it is now more important than ever to know your legal rights and potential defences, and to protect your interests by contesting the offence at court. Our team at OTD Ticket Defenders Legal Services are generally able to review most cases and provide basic information about the court process within as little as 10 to 15 minutes. We offer a no cost, no obligation review of matters by calling our toll-free number at 1â€‘844â€‘647â€‘6869, via email firstname.lastname@example.org, through our online website, or at any of our offices in person.