Distracted Driving in Ontario: Ontario Hands-free Driving Law

Oct 4, 2021 | Rules of the Road

What You Need to Know About Distracted Driving in Ontario

In Ontario, someone is injured in a distracted-driving collision every half hour, and fatalities from collisions caused by distracted driving have doubled since 2000.

It’s no wonder that Ontario is cracking down on careless and distracted driving with new and tougher penalties, making it more important than ever for drivers to know and respect Ontario’s distracted driving rules.

The scary statistics

A driver using a phone is four times more likely to crash their car, which is unsurprising when you consider that sending or reading a text takes your eyes off the road for an average of five seconds. At 90 km/h, that’s like driving the length of an entire football field with your eyes closed.

Teen drivers are particularly high risk offenders. While the vast majority are aware of the dangers of texting and driving, 35% of teen drivers admit to doing it anyway. (We suspect that number is even higher.)

What’s Illegal: What is prohibited to do with a device while driving?

It is illegal to use any hand-held communication (e.g. your phone) or electronic entertainment device (e.g. e-reader) while driving, even when you are stopped in traffic or at a red light.

That means that while driving it’s illegal to use a hand-held device to:

  • text or dial (with the exception of calling 911 in an emergency)
  • scroll through your contacts
  • program a GPS device (except by voice commands)
  • watch videos, play games, read the news, etc.
  • check social media

In fact, even holding a phone or other device while driving is against the law (so if you think you’ll be able to talk your way out of a distracted driving ticket, you’re dead wrong).

What’s Legal: What can you do with a device while driving?

While driving, you are allowed to use:

  1. A communications device (e.g. your cell phone) with an earpiece, headset or Bluetooth device using voice-activated dialing—but only to activate or deactivate a hands-free function and only if it’s mounted or secured.
  2. GPS display screens, as long as they are built into your vehicle’s dashboard or mounted on the dashboard, and you must input the required information before you start driving.
  3. A portable media player plugged into the vehicle’s sound system (but you must activate the playlist before you start driving).

Notice a pattern here? Keep your hands on the wheel, keep your device mounted on the dash (or out of reach entirely) and you should be able to avoid distracted driving penalties.

If you absolutely must touch your device for some reason, get off the road (and out of the way) and park your car (legally). Only then can you legally handle and use your device.

What does hands-free mean?

According to the Ministry of Transportation, a hands-free device is any device that you do not touch, hold or manipulate while driving, other than to activate or deactivate it.

Ultimately, hands-free driving means that your hands stay on the wheel. It means you do not touch any device with your hands, at any time, while you are driving. Period.

Penalties for distracted driving

If you’re caught using a hand-held device while driving, the penalty you face will depend on the kind of licence you hold and how long you’ve been driving; however, no matter your driving status, you can expect a minimum fine of $615 if convicted.

New drivers (holders of a G1, G2, M1 or M2 licence) face the same fines as drivers with A to G licences, but instead of gaining demerit points, they’ll face longer licence suspensions or even the cancellation of their licence.

Keeping your focus on the road is a cornerstone of safe driving; SafeStart, a top-rated drivers ed program in Ontario, helps new drivers develop the driving habits they need to stay safe—and ensure the safety of others—on the road.

Contact DriveWise to register for a drivers ed course near you.

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