Distracted driving sees increased fines in Ontario

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Ontario motorists who are caught using a cellphone or other prohibited device while driving will soon face fines of up to $280.

Chief Justice Annemarie Bonkalo of Ontario Court of Justice has approved an increase in distracted driving fines from $155 to $255.

This increase is set to start Mar. 18 and will include surcharges, bringing fines up to a possible $280. Currently, tickets that are $125 encompass a $30 surcharge, whereas $225 tickets will bring an additional $55.

“People don’t think it’s a big deal to take a few seconds to look away,” said Linda Wolf, an Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) constable. “They think nothing bad will ever happen and it’s only a matter of time because it’s gambling whenever they do this.”

According to Wolf, this “gambling” has led to an increase in distracted driving charges from 16,000 in 2012 to 19,000 in 2013.

78 OPP investigations of fatalities affiliated with distracted driving in 2013 served as an indicator for the significance of the problem.

“To compare, that number is greater than the alcohol-related fatalities and speed-related fatalities that same year,” she added.

Drivers who fight the ticket in court may face fines of up to $500.

Anna Paolella, a representative for Bas Balkissoon, MPP for Toronto and Scarborough, believes fines will deter people from distracted driving and that commuters will become more aware of the increase.

“It will be like when they first introduced the bill for tickets — it was on billboards,” she said.

Balkissoon introduced a private member’s bill in October 2013 to penalize distracted driving with fines from $300 to $700 and demerit points.  According to Paolella,

Balkissoon’s commitment to preventing distracted driving was actually driven by a personal incident, when a distracted driver hit and killed a woman in his riding who was boarding a bus.

While young people are often stereotyped as the most common perpetrators of driving while using electronic devices, distracted driving is not limited to any sex or age.

“Distracted driving is not just an issue for young people and it does not relate to more men or women it is men and women of all ages that are in the driving age group from 16 to whatever,” Wolf added. “We haven’t identified any particular age group or sex that is texting more than any other.”

Not all see the increased fines as a good idea, however.

Second-year Wilfrid Laurier University student Hussein Pradhan believes that the government “is just looking for ways to get money.”

“They don’t care about our safety as they claim they do,” Pradhan added.
Other officials argue that the issue is of extreme importance.

“Clearly the lawmakers recognize that this is a priority for the community and that people stay off their phones,” said Shaena Morris, staff sergeant for Waterloo Regional Police Services. “The fact that they are increasing the fine certainly speaks to the importance of the issue within the province and that distracted driving kills people.”

Those who endanger others on the road due to distracted driving can also be faced with charges of up to $2,000 for careless driving and upwards of six demerit points.
Other penalties may also be in affect, including license suspension, criminal charges and jail time.

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