Distracted Driving

In Ontario, it is illegal for drivers to talk, text, type, dial or email using hand-held cell phones and other hand-held communications and entertainment devices. Find out the risks of distracted driving, which devices you can and can't use and the penalties you could incur.

Risks of distracted driving

Good drivers keep their hands on the wheel and their eyes on the road. Research shows that drivers who use cell phones are four times more likely to be in a collision than drivers who focus on the road. And when drivers take their eyes off the road for more than two seconds, their crash risk doubles.

Ontario's 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
  • GPS and MP3 players
  • cell phones
  • smart phones
  • laptops
  • DVD players

What's hands-free?

Any device that you do not touch, hold or manipulate while driving, other than to activate or deactivate it. For example, actions such as dialing or scrolling through contacts, or manually programming a GPS device are not allowed.

Fines / Penalties

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.

If you endanger others because of any distraction, including both hand-held and hands-free devices, you can also be charged with careless driving. If convicted, you will automatically receive:

  • six demerit points
  • fines up to $2,000 and/or
  • a jail term of six months
  • up to two-year licence suspension

You can even be charged with dangerous driving (a criminal offence), with jail terms of up to five years.

Exemptions

You can still use hand-held devices while driving in a few cases:

  • in a vehicle pulled off the roadway or lawfully parked
  • to make a 911 call
  • transmitting or receiving voice communication on a two-way, CB or mobile radio (hand-mikes and portable radios like walkie-talkies require a lapel button or other hands-free accessory)

Police, emergency medical services personnel, firefighters and enforcement officers can also use hand-held devices and viewing display screens when performing their duties.

Check the list below to find out if you can use your electronic device while driving:

Devices that can and can't be used while driving
Type of device Can I use it? Example
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 mobile phone that sits in a mount attached to the dashboard by Velcro or in a cup holder.
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 GPS mounted in a dashboard or on a windshield, as long as it does not block the driver's view.
A portable media player plugged into the vehicle's sound system. Yes - but you must activate the playlist before driving iPod
Display screens that are built into the vehicle and used for safety reasons. Yes Systems for collision avoidance, information about the vehicle's status, road or weather information.
Audio devices with screens that display still images. Yes An MP3 player displaying a still image of the artist or the name of the song playing
Ignition interlock devices. Yes

In emergencies

Having a cell phone can be an important safety aid for drivers and passengers - whether for personal safety or for reporting a crime or a collision.

All drivers can use hand-held devices to call 911.

You should only use your cell phone in a situation that could result in a danger to your safety or the safety of others.

If you need to use your cell phone in an emergency, consider the following tips:

  • Pull over safely if conditions allow.
  • Keep emergency calls as brief as possible.
  • Alert the caller that you are on the road.
  • End conversations immediately if driving conditions or situations become hazardous (inclement weather, roadway construction, high-speed or high-volume traffic).
  • Be alert to situations on the road where a cell phone's radio frequency and electronics may be potentially harmful, such as construction zones where blasting is occurring, or at gas stations and fuelling areas.

Tips to avoid distraction

There are many simple steps you can take to avoid being distracted while you drive:

  • Use your cell phone only when you're parked, or have a passenger take the call.
  • Let calls go to voicemail.
  • Turn off your cell phone before you start driving.
  • Identify and preset your vehicle's climate control, radio and CD player.
  • Plan your route and set your GPS before you leave.
  • When you're hungry or thirsty, take a break. Don't eat or drink while you drive.
  • Avoid other distractions like reading maps, grooming activities and tending to children and pets.

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