Glen Murray, Ontario's Minister of Transport, says the government is considering increasing penalties for distracted driving in the hopes more people will be deterred from using hand-held devices while behind the wheel.
Murray advised of possible changes to Ontario's distracted driving law during an interview with CTV News. The minister said, "There will be action coming, whether it's regulations, whether it's legislation or some combination of education and new penalties—haven't decided yet. We're really in the middle of looking at what would be most efficient."
Ontario's distracted driving law, on the books since 2009, defines distracted driving as the use of a hand-held electronic device that is capable of receiving or transmitting telephone communications, electronic data, mail or text messages. Exemptions are made for police officers, firefighters and paramedics as well as any driver who has an emergency and is calling 911.
Last month, the Ontario Court of Appeal ruled merely holding a hand-held device while operating a motor vehicle constitutes an offence.
Although the fixed penalty for distracted driving is a fine of $155, the fine can be increased up to $500 for anyone found guilty after a trial. Murray is personally in favour of adding demerit points to the legislation. These points stay on a driver's record for two years and if a person accumulates enough points, they can lose their license and be forced to take another driving test. Demerit points also cause insurance rates to increase.
According to the Ministry of Transport, 51,770 drivers have been charged with distracted driving this year. In the past three years, there were 235,000 charges laid. Murray said there have been a lot of complaints about people driving while using hand-held devices and that 20 per cent of collisions are caused by distracted driving.
The opposition Progressive Conservatives are in favour of beefing up the law. MPP Jeff Yurek said, "Right now, it's not working what's going on. Too many people are being killed due to distracted driving and we need to do something as a government to ensure that decreases." But Andrea Horwath, leader of the third party NDP, just used Murray's statement to take a shot at the government, recently under criticism for forming too many consultation panels. Of the proposal to increase penalties for distracted driving, Horwath said, "I guess it's going in the Liberal Bermuda Triangle of consultation and discussion."
The government is also considering making "dooring" a specific offence. Dooring is when a person opens a car door in the path of a cyclist.