Ontario's distracted driving law came into force in 2009. Under s.78.1 of the Highway Traffic Act
(HTA), it is an offence to operate a motor vehicle while holding (not necessarily using) a handheld electronic device. The only exceptions are for emergency personnel (fire, police, and paramedics) and for anyone making a 911 call.
Prior to the enactment, there were already laws covering bad driving, other than for drinking and driving. Under the HTA, it is an offence to drive carelessly. Careless driving is defined as operating a motor vehicle without due care and attention or without reasonable consideration for others using the highway. Although it is a provincial offence, careless driving is one of the most serious charges found in the Highway Traffic Act.
For more egregious driving, the Criminal Code of Canada makes dangerous driving a crime. Dangerous driving is driving in a manner that, when viewed objectively, is dangerous to the public having regard to all the circumstances at the time including the amount of traffic that may reasonably be expected.
As the Toronto Sun
reports, an accident occurred on Highway 401 early Monday morning near Napanee. One transport trailer rear-ended a second one. One of the truck drivers was charged with careless driving and the other driver received serious injuries. Despite the seriousness of the collision, police had the time to charge 22 other motorists.
One driver was charged with careless driving when he was observed to be steering with his elbows while using a cell phone to record the accident scene. Fair enough. But 21 others were charged with distracted driving for recording the event with a handheld device. If most or all of these drivers get convicted, it will constitute quite a cash grab for the now "have-not" province.
And, as Digital Journal
reported, Toronto Mayor Rob Ford was recently photographed driving 70 k.p.h. (approx. 43.5 m.p.h.) on the city's busy Gardiner Expressway while appearing to be reading some papers. The photo was posted on a Twitter account but taken down several hours later.
Ford admitted he "probably" did it. But under Ontario law, in the absence of evidence that Ford was driving carelessly or dangerously, it is not an offence to operate a motor vehicle while reading.
What is really ironic, if true, is that the reason the photographer removed the picture from his Twitter account was because he was breaking the law by taking the photo while driving. Taking pictures with handheld electronic devices is illegal; reading or doing countless other things is not.
If Ontario was really serious about cracking down on distracted driving, they would pass legislation similar to the province of Alberta's. In Alberta
, distracted driving encompasses not only handheld electronic devices but other activities such as personal grooming, reading, and writing. Ford would have been guilty of distracted driving if a similar law was in place.
A warning for Toronto drivers. If you happen to come across His Worship the Mayor while both of you are driving and he is reading, he is not breaking the law. But if you take a picture or a video of him, you are!