Phone in one hand, ticket in the other

During the week of April 15 to the 21 the OPP will be targeting distracted drivers with a campaign called ‘Phone in one hand, ticket in the other.’ Distracted drivers are a safety risk to themselves and others. Studies show that a driver using a cell phone is four times more likely to be in a crash than a driver focused on the road. Other studies show that dialling and texting carries the highest degree of risk of all cell phone related activities.

The Countering Distracted Driving and Promoting Green Transportation Act 2009, prohibiting the use of hand-held devices while driving, took effect on October 26, 2009. The OPP has made distracted driving one of its four major causes of death and injury on Ontario roads. The “big four” factors are: aggressive driving, lack of occupant restraint, impaired driving and distracted driving. In early 2010, the OPP began to enforce a law (Highway Traffic Act, Section 78), which made it illegal in Ontario for drivers to use any handheld communications and entertainment devices.

The law will makes it illegal for drivers to use:

• hand-held wireless communications devices such as cell phones, smart phones;
• hand-held electronic entertainment devices, such as iPods, MP3 players or portable games;
• texting and emailing; and
• viewing display screens on devices not required for driving, such as a laptop or DVD players.

What is allowed while driving:

• hands-free wireless communications devices with an earpiece or Bluetooth device;
• global positioning system (GPS) device mounted on the dashboard;
• portable audio player that has been plugged into the vehicle’s sound system;
• pressing the button of a hand-held wireless device to activate hands-free mode for incoming or outbound calls;
• commercially used logistical transportation tracking systems;
• viewing display screen used for collision avoidance systems; and
• viewing display screen used for an instrument, gauge or system that provides information regarding the status of systems in the motor vehicle.

Emergency services personnel such as police, fire and ambulance will be permitted to use hand-held wireless communications devices in the normal performance of their duties.

Drivers may place 9-1-1 calls in an emergency situation, but if possible, drivers should pull off the road before making the call.

The legislation doesn’t ban the use of these electronic devices in vehicles but rather prohibits their use in a way that may cause driver distraction while driving. Drivers will be permitted to utilize their cell phones without a hands-free system if:

• the vehicle is off the roadway or is lawfully parked;
• the vehicle must not be in motion; or
• the vehicle is not impeding traffic.

Therefore, drivers cannot use their cell phone in a hand-held manner if stopped in traffic or at a red traffic light.

The fines that will be applied to a driver who will be issued an offence notice are $155. However, the legislation allows for fines up to $500. In addition to this legislation, drivers who place others at risk as a result of using a hands-free device can be charged with careless driving and face fines can range from $400 to $2,000, six demerit points, a driver’s licence suspension and possible jail time. If convicted of dangerous driving, drivers could face a penalty of up to $2,000 and five years in jail. The OPP in the province laid 2,393 charges under Section 78 of the Highway Traffic Act (HTA) during the week campaign in February 2012.

Constable Allan Boyd, Community Services Officer for the Manitoulin OPP, states: “Drivers who use cell phones are four times more likely to be in a crash than drivers who are focused on the road. By driving wisely, we can improve the safety of all Ontario roadway users. Officers would like to remind drivers who don’t have a hands-free device to use your cell phone only when parked, have a passenger make or answer the call or let the caller go to voice mail. Simply put anyone caught breaking this law will be charged as to the name of our campaign ‘phone in one hand, ticket in the other.’