What Is Distracted Driving In Ontario?

One question frequently is asked due to its growing relevance and impact on personal insurance rates: What constitutes distracted driving in Ontario? Distracted driving convictions continue to drive up insurance premiums. Here, we’ll explore the legal definitions and implications of distracted driving in Ontario.


The Legal Definition of Distracted Driving

Distracted Driving vs. Careless Driving

Many might wonder how everyday actions such as applying makeup, drinking coffee, or eating while driving fit into the definition of distracted driving. These actions, especially when they lead to erratic driving behavior like speeding up, slowing down, or lane deviations, could lead to charges of careless driving. This term encompasses a broad range of distracted behaviors that compromise safe driving.


Cell Phone Use

A significant focus of the distracted driving legislation is on cell phone use. Ontario law specifically addresses this under section 78.1 (1) of the Highway Traffic Act, which prohibits the use of handheld communication devices while driving. This includes any interaction with your cell phone, such as touching or holding it, which can lead to the types of driving behaviors – like varying speeds or lane wandering – that attract police attention.


The Two Key Legislative Sections

Section 130 – Careless Driving

This section covers driving in a careless manner, without due attention to the road or regard for other road users. It’s broad enough to include a variety of distracted behaviors, not just those involving electronic devices.

Section 78.1 (1) – Handheld Communication Devices

This section explicitly targets the use of handheld devices while driving. It’s important to understand that this includes any form of interaction with a device, even when the vehicle is stationary, such as at a red light. The mere act of holding a cell phone in a situation where a police officer can observe it can lead to charges under this section.


Real-World Implications

Being observed by a police officer while engaging in any form of distracted driving, particularly involving cell phones, can lead to being pulled over and charged. It’s a common misconception that using a cell phone while stopped at a red light is safe or permissible; however, the law views this differently. The technicality of the law means that even stationary use of a cell phone can result in a distracted driving charge.


Understanding Ontario’s Distracted Driving Laws

Understanding what constitutes distracted driving in Ontario is crucial for all drivers. The distinction between careless driving and specific offenses related to handheld communication devices highlights the legal landscape’s complexity.


If you find yourself facing such charges, it’s imperative to seek legal advice. Knowledgeable in the intricacies of the Highway Traffic Act, legal professionals can offer guidance and representation to ensure your rights are protected and to mitigate the impact of any charges on your driving record and insurance rates.


Video Transcription:

One thing that comes up from day to day and practicing in the highway traffic world that I do is, and it’s quite common these days, and that is, what is distracted driving in Ontario? It’s a concerning thing these days because that seems to be, these distractions and these convictions seem to be driving up personal insurance rates.

So I’m going to try to answer today. What is distracted driving in Ontario? And I’m going to, I’m going to refer to two different sections of the Highway Traffic Act, which should encapsulate what, what is in fact, distracted driving. Careless driving is, is a term you may have used. And if you’re distracted by putting on your makeup, or are sipping on a coffee, or eating a hamburger while driving down the road, and while doing so, you’re speeding up and slowing down, and you’re changing lanes, or coming out of your lane and potentially driving in a manner that’s not in accordance with the normal driving you may be charged with careless driving.

The other type of distracted driving charges that you hear about are cell phones. Touching your cell phones, being on your cell phone, things like that. So, really there’s two types of legislation. It’s under section 130 of the Highway Traffic Act, careless driving. And section 78 sub 1 which is a handheld communication device and you touching it.

And that causing the same sorts of things. That, that slight distraction. usually manifests in, in either higher speeds or lower speeds or lane wandering, behaviors that would raise the eyebrow of any officer observing that. These types of behaviors are, are not the types of behaviors that, you know, a fellow motorist would be observing and then reporting, but you will be observed if you’re observed, being observed, if you’re doing that type of thing by a police officer, you can expect that you would be pulled over and you could anticipate seeing one of those two types of charges. If in fact that officer sees you looking at your cell phone or touching your cell phone while driving, even stopped at a red light.

If you’re looking at your cell phone while stopped, which in my mind, in your mind, I’m sure it’s perfectly safe, and “What’s gone wrong here?” The reality is very technical, but if an officer sees you holding your cell phone, even while stopped, he could charge you with that particular offense.

by | Nov 3, 2023

Ron Harper

Ron Harper

Ron Harper, owner of OTD Ticket Defenders Legal Services, is a former Ontario Prosecutor and Licensed Paralegal with over 40 years of experience in traffic offences.

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