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New Cell Phone Penalties In Ontario For 2019

As of January 1, 2019, new penalties have come into effect in Ontario for driving with a hand-held communication device such as a cell phone.  Previously these charges carried significant fines, demerit points, and generally a significant impact to insurance costs.  Now however, a conviction will come with an even higher fine and mandatory driver’s licence suspension.  If the old penalties weren’t enough to have you think twice before checking your text messages while driving down highway 401, the new ones certainly should.

What are the new penalties and what do you need to know to protect yourself?  Let’s take a look!

WHAT IS THE LAW REGARDING DRIVING AND CELL PHONE USE?

The ban on cell phone use while driving came into effect as of October 26, 2009 under the McGuinty government.  This law was enacted under Highway Traffic Action section 78.1.  A three-month period was set to educate Ontario drivers regarding the law before tickets would begin being issued by police as of February 2, 2010.  Originally a conviction under this law would result in a record of conviction for licencing and insurance purposes, but carried no demerit point penalty.  As of September 1, 2015, the demerit point penalty for a conviction was increased to 3 demerit points.

It is helpful to distinguish the two sections of law regarding electronic devices being used while driving.  Section 78 of the Highway Traffic Act deals with display screens being visible to a driver:

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.

There are exemptions to what display screens can be visible to the driver of a vehicle:

Exceptions

(2) Subsection (1) does not apply in respect of the display screen of,

  1. a global positioning system navigation device while being used to provide navigation information;
  2. a hand-held wireless communication device or a device that is prescribed for the purpose of subsection 78.1 (1);
  3. a logistical transportation tracking system device used for commercial purposes to track vehicle location, driver status or the delivery of packages or other goods;
  4. a collision avoidance system device that has no other function than to deliver a collision avoidance system; or
  5. 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.

Drivers of the following vehicles are also exempt from this law:

  • ambulance
  • fire department vehicle
  • police department vehicle

Charges for actual cell phone use fall under Highway Traffic Act section 78.1(1):

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; 2015, c. 27, Sched. 7, s. 18.

The definition of a “motor vehicle” includes a street car, motorized snow vehicle, farm tractor, self-propelled implement of husbandry and road-building machine.  

This section of the HTA can further breakdown devices used while driving to ‘entertainment devices’ under section 78.1(2):

Entertainment devices

(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.

WHAT EXEMPTIONS APPLY TO DRIVING WITH A CELL PHONE IN ONTARIO?

There are a number of exemptions that apply to HTA s.78.1(1) where a cell phone may be used while driving.  The following individuals are exempt from this law:

  • the driver of an ambulance, fire department vehicle or police department vehicle;
  • any other prescribed person or class of persons;
  • a person holding or using a device prescribed for the purpose of this subsection; or
  • a person engaged in a prescribed activity or in prescribed conditions or circumstances.

An exemption also exists under HTA s.78.1(5) that a cell phone may be used “to contact ambulance, police or fire department emergency services.”

A further exemption under HTA s.78.1(3) permits that “a person may drive a motor vehicle on a highway while using a device described in those subsections in hands-free mode.”

Under HTA s.78.1(6), subsections (1) and (2) do not apply to a driver if all three of the following conditions are met:

  • The motor vehicle is off the roadway or is lawfully parked on the roadway.
  • The motor vehicle is not in motion.
  • The motor vehicle is not impeding traffic.

WHAT ARE THE NEW PENALTIES FOR DRIVING WITH A CELL PHONE?

Effective January 1, 2019, the new fines for driving with a cell phone or entertainment device are as follows:

Offence

Fine

First offence

$500 to $1,000

First subsequent offence

$500 to $2,000

A second or later subsequent offence

$500 to $3,000

These fines are further subject to a victim fine surcharge as follows:

Fine Range ($)

Surcharge ($)

0-50

10

51-75

15

76-100

20

101-150

25

151-200

35

201-250

50

251-300

60

301-350

75

351-400

85

401-450

95

451-500

110

501-1000

125

Over 1000

25% of actual fine

Cell phone charges now come with a mandatory suspension of driver’s licence upon conviction.  The length of that suspension is dependent on whether the offence is a first, second, or later conviction for cell phone use:

Offence

Suspension

First offence

3 Days

First subsequent offence

7 Days

A second or later subsequent offence

30 Days

Offences are considered “subsequent” offences if they were committed within 5 years of a pervious offence.

A conviction for driving with a cell phone may also result in a very large increase to insurance costs including being forced into ‘high risk’ insurance.

NOVICE DRIVERS AND CELL PHONE CHARGES

Novice drivers (G1/G2/M1/M2) convicted of driving with a cell phone are also subject to escalating sanctions penalties as follows:

  • 30-day licence suspension for the first occurrence
  • 90-day licence suspension for the second occurrence
  • Licence cancellation and a requirement to re-apply for a G1/M1 after the third occurrence. Any fees paid, credit received for time spent in the program or BDE credit would be forfeited when the licence is cancelled. Please note that in the case of a hybrid driver, only the novice-class licence is cancelled on the third occasion; their full-class licence is maintained.

WHAT CAN I DO IF I’M CHARGED BY THE POLICE?

If you are charged by the police with driving while using a handheld communication device, you will need to make some very important decisions on what to do.  It is important that you immediately seek out the information that you will need to make informed legal decisions and avoid any legal missteps.  Put a licenced and experienced paralegal who knows the law and court process in the courtroom on your behalf.  Many of these cases can be resolved without the defendant ever having to step foot in the courtroom which avoids the stress and anxiety the comes with appearing before the court.  Let our team take care of the legal work for you.

The first step is to contact our office for a no-cost, no-obligation initial consultation.  Our friendly team can be reached by the toll-free number 1-844-647-6869, text at 226-240-2480, or email at info@otdlegal.ca.  You can also submit an online consultation request any time of day or night, and one of our staff will contact you during regular business hours to assist you.

Posted under Traffic Ticket Defence

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