Distracted Driving – Smartphones are Only Part of the Problem
When we talk about distracted driving, most people immediately think about smartphones. Sure enough, using your phone behind the wheel to call and text people or program a GPS app are all big problems. But really, that’s just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.
To help combat the rising number of cases of distracted driving, Ontario raised fines and punishments as of January 1, 2019. But if you think you can avoid these charges by simply going “hands-free” with your mobile phone, you might be in for a surprise. Save yourself some trouble: review this article to find out what makes up distracted driving in Ontario these days.
What is distracted driving?
According to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), distracted driving is a form of impaired driving. This is because “a driver’s judgment is compromised when they are not fully focused on the road.” Distracted driving can reduce a driver’s reaction time or impair their judgement. Sometimes, distractions can even increase the likelihood a driver will fall asleep at the wheel. And in all cases, they increase the risk that someone will be injured or killed.
Besides talking on the phone, the RCMP’s list of driving distractions also includes:
- reading — including maps, newspapers, etc…
- using a GPS device
- watching videos/movies
- eating & drinking
- playing with the audio system (radio/CD/media player)
- listening to extremely loud music
- talking to passengers
- driving while fatigued
The CBC recently did a piece on distracted driving in Ontario, showing some of the initiatives they are currently running to help combat the issue, including teaching programs in schools, and how they are patrolling the 400 series of highways here in Ontario. Interesting insights into all the efforts being funded largely by the insurance companies – which is telling as to the cost they face with all the claims being filed and personal injuries resulting from these types of accidents.
The new distracted driving laws in Ontario
As smartphones became an integral part of our culture, the initial police response in Ontario was a campaign of issuing warnings. When that system proved ineffective, new laws were brought in hoping that tougher penalties would help drivers focus on the road.
The initial penalties were:
- $490 in fines for settling out of court ($400 victim surcharge + $90 court fees)
- up to $1,000 in fines if it went to trial
- three demerit points
- the possibility of further charges such as careless or dangerous driving with their inherent fines and penalties as well
When these deterrents proved ineffective, many called for stiffer penalties. The government responded with a new system that went into effect at the beginning of 2019. Now, distracted drivers face more severe consequences for repeat offences.
First time distracted drivers now face a $1,000 fine and three demerit points. For a second offence, the fine doubles to $2,000. There’s also a seven-day licence suspension and six demerit points to deal with. The stakes are even higher for a third offence: a $3,000 fine and a 30-day suspension.
While the list of forbidden distractions above may seem a little Draconian, it’s good to know there are certain exceptions to these rules. For instance, it’s okay to use your phone so long as you can do it all hands-free. Ideally, you want a setup with an earpiece, headset, or Bluetooth connectivity. Full voice-command capability would come in handy, too. The less you reach for your handheld device, the better. Technically, you should only ever touch your phone to activate/deactivate hands-free mode, and then only if it’s mounted.
It’s also still okay to use your GPS unit if the device is properly mounted to the windshield or dashboard. But make sure you program the device before you drive. If you need to reprogram your route, pull over first.
You can use a portable media player as well. But, again, set it before you drive and leave it alone while in transit.
The vehicle’s dashboard display screen is a bit of a grey area. It’s okay to use it if you need to access a vehicle safety feature, such as activating all-wheel drive. But fiddling with the radio still qualifies as distracted driving.
How to reduce driving distractions
Driving with distractions can have disastrous consequences. Aside from the legal penalties, it can also lead to higher insurance premiums. Not to mention that distracted driving causes accidents resulting in injury and death.
To better protect yourself from causing such an accident, follow these guidelines:
Plan your route
Above all, we advised you to program your GPS before leaving. But even before that, take some time to figure out where you’re going and how you’ll get there. Figure out how long you’ll need to get there so you can give yourself enough time and you won’t feel rushed. And pad that time a little to compensate for potential obstacles like a sudden road closure. And set your GPS to tell you when turns are coming up if possible. Anything to reduce your need to look at it the better. And make sure the GPS’s volume can be easily heard over whatever music might be playing.
Stash your phone
For some, the temptation to fidget with their phone is too much. If you cannot leave your phone alone, save yourself some trouble and put it away. Lock it up in the glovebox. Or, better yet, the trunk. And if it’s somewhere you can still hear it, turn the ringer off. Set your smartphone to send out an autoreply to incoming text messages and phone calls instead. Arrive alive and check your messages when you get there.
Conversing with passengers
We’ve known for a while that passengers can distract drivers. That’s why drivers with graduated licences have limits on the number of passengers they can carry. No one expects you to never talk to your passengers. The important thing to remember is to keep your priorities straight. Make sure your passengers know sometimes you must focus on the road. And it’s okay if there’s a brief lull in the conversation when that happens. Silence helps give the mental clarity necessary for split-second reactions.
Talking to passengers isn’t the same as talking on the phone. Unlike the person on the other end of the line, the passenger is usually aware of your surroundings. Chances are they’ll know when to “zip it” better than someone on the phone would.
Food and drink
Don’t eat and drink while driving. There’s no way to focus on the road if you do. If you must drink, hold on until you’re waiting at a stoplight.
As much as we all appreciate the musical arts, there are certain things you need to hear while driving. Screeching breaks and wailing sirens have to take priority. Keep the volume of your music reasonable.
If you can’t make time for hair and makeup before you must leave, go au naturel. Seriously, you could put lives at risk. It’s not worth it.
Put anything like purses, bags, backpacks, and coats behind the seat or in the trunk. When breaking in emergency situations, it’s instinct to reach out for things in motion. And if that’s something trivial, it’s an unnecessary distraction.
Distracted driving and personal injury law
Sadly, eliminating distractions while you drive can only go so far. You do your best to be a safe driver, but the truth is you’re only as safe as the most distracted driver sharing the road with you. And it only takes an inattentive moment for catastrophe to strike.
If you are hurt by a distracted driver, the good news is they likely won’t be able to countersue, and if the suit ever made it to trial, it could be thrown out of court.
Distraction is becoming a determining factor when accessing fault in an accident these days. And fault is a limiting factor when determining damages a party can sue for. For instance, someone who sues for $500,000 in damages but is 50% at fault can only ever hope to be awarded $250,000.
Play it safe. Let others assume the risk of distracted driving. That way, if you are hurt in an accident, at least it won’t be your fault.
The ever-changing landscape of distracted driving
These days, distracted driving encompasses so much more than smart phones. Eating, smoking, passenger behavior, and fiddling with the radio can all have an impact in determining fault in an accident. And an even bigger impact in determining how much you can sue for if you are injured.
Play it safe and do what you can to make your car a distraction-free environment. Know where you’re going, keep the music low, and let that call go to voicemail. When you reach your destination without getting into an accident, you’ll be glad you did.
Have you been hurt by a distracted driver?
If you’ve been injured because of another driver’s inattention behind the wheel, contact Mackesy Smye today.
Use the link below and take advantage of our free, no-obligation consultation process where our dedicated, experienced team of personal injury lawyers will access your case.