Distracted Driving - Frequently Asked Questions

Q1: What exactly is the distracted driving law?
Q2: What about hands-free devices?
Q3: Can I use my hand-held device when I'm stopped at a stop light?
Q4: Are there any exemptions to Ontario's distracted driving law?
Q5: What are the fines / penalties for breaking Ontario's distracted driving law?

Q1: What exactly is the distracted driving law?

In Ontario, it's against the law to:

  • operate hand-held communication and electronic entertainment devices while you're driving
  • view display screens unrelated to your driving

Examples of hand-held devices include:

  • iPods and MP3 players
  • GPS
  • cell phones
  • smart phones
  • laptops
  • DVD players

Q2: What about hands-free devices?

You can use any device that you do not touch, hold or manipulate while driving, other than to activate or deactivate it. Actions like dialing or scrolling through contacts are not allowed.

Type of device

Can I use it?

A cell phone with an earpiece, headset or Bluetooth device using voice-activated dialing.

Yes - only to activate or deactivate a “hands-free” function, and only if the device is mounted or secured.
Actions like dialing or scrolling through contacts are not allowed.

A GPS screen

Yes - provided the GPS is mounted on the dashboard or windshield. 
You must input the required information before you start driving.

A portable media player plugged into the vehicle's sound system.

Yes - but you must activate the playlist before driving

Display screens that are built into the vehicle and used for safety reasons.

Yes

Ignition interlock devices.

Yes

Q3: Can I use my hand-held device when I'm stopped at a stop light?

No. With the exception of a call to the police, fire department or emergency medical services personnel, a driver of a motor vehicle must be pulled off the roadway and not impeding traffic, or lawfully parked to use these hand-held devices.

Note : It is dangerous to stop on the shoulder of a 400-series highway and drivers are prohibited from pulling off a designated 400-series highway and parking for a reason other than an emergency. If the situation is not an emergency, drivers are advised to exit the freeway at an interchange or pull into the nearest service centre.

It is important to remember that collisions do not just occur while a vehicle is in motion. Drivers stopped at lights and using a cell phone or smart phone (e.g., BlackBerry) are often not paying attention to the light cycle and frequently miss advance turn signals or green lights. They are also not paying attention to the actions of other road users, including pedestrians and cyclists.


Q4: Are there any exemptions to Ontario's distracted driving law?

When driving, you are not permitted to use hand-held communication and entertainment devices or view display screens unrelated to the driving task, with the following exceptions:

  • Calling 9-1-1 in an emergency situation
  • When the driver is lawfully parked or has safely pulled off the roadway and is not impeding traffic.

Note: It is dangerous to stop on the shoulder of a 400-series highway and drivers are prohibited from pulling off a designated 400-series highway and parking for a reason other than an emergency. If the situation is not an emergency, drivers are advised to exit the freeway at an interchange or pull into the nearest service centre.

Commercial and public transit drivers, as well as public service workers who are engaged in the performance of their duties, will be able to view the display screens of mobile data terminals and logistical tracking and dispatching devices. Specified commercial, public transit, and public function drivers, as well as licenced amateur radio operators, are permitted hand-held use of their two-way (“CB”) radios (exemption to expire January 1, 2018).

Other devices not included in the ban:

  • Viewing a display screen used for collision avoidance systems
  • Viewing a display screen of an instrument, gauge or system that provides information on the conditions, use and immediate environment of the vehicle or that provides road or weather information
  • Ignition interlock
  • Car audio screens that display still images

Unlike CB or mobile radios (two-way radios), devices like hand-mikes and portable radios (walkie-talkies) do not have a microphone connected to a separate receiver. These devices may not be used as hand-held devices, but may be may be used in a hands-free manner. Drivers may use a lapel button or press a button on the device to transmit or receive voice communication as long as the hand-mike or walkie-talkie is mounted or secured and is not being held while driving.

Viewing display screens of a mobile data terminal is allowed for commercial purposes. These devices provide operational information from a dispatcher or control centre, and are essential to commercial operations, including licensed taxi and limousine services, couriers, tow truck and roadside assistance services. Many public services, including public transit, also rely on these devices.


Q5: What are the fines / penalties for breaking Ontario's distracted driving law?

As of September 1, 2015 the fines and penalties for distracted driving will increase.

If convicted of distracted driving, a fully licenced driver (holder of Class A, B, C, D, E, F, G) or a hybrid driver (holder of a full-class licence and a novice licence such as Class G and M1) will receive:

  • a fine of $400, plus a victim surcharge and court fee, for a total of $490 if settled out of court
  • fine of up to $1,000 if you receive a summons or fight your ticket
  • three demerit points applied to your driver’s record

If convicted of distracted driving, a novice driver (subject to the Graduated Licensing program) will be subject to escalating sanctions:

  • first occurrence will result in a 30-day licence suspension
  • second occurrence will result in 90-day licence suspension
  • licence cancellation and removal from the Graduated Licensing System for a third occurrence

Novice drivers will not be subject to demerit points.

Drivers who endanger others because of any distraction, including hand-held and hands-free devices, may still be charged with Careless Driving under the Highway Traffic Act or even Dangerous Driving under the Criminal Code of Canada.

Both charges carry heavy fines and penalties, if convicted, including 6 demerit points, fines of up to $2,000 and /or a jail term of six months, and up to two-year licence suspension in the case of Careless Driving. Dangerous Driving is a criminal offence and includes jail terms of up to five years.

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