Distracted Driving on the Skids in Ontario

The Ontario government passed Bill 118 last April and recently announced that it will come into force on October 26. The government has indicated that there will be a three-month period of education following which tickets will be handed out starting on February 1, 2010.

While some other provinces were quicker off the mark, Ontario’s legislation seems to have garnered the most media and other attention. Employer’s are busy drafting and distributing policies to their workforce and educating them on what the law means.

While the legislation will (or should) change the way people behave behind the wheel, we should not be surprised that the government has decided to regulate the area. The National Safety Council had a Symposium on Distracted Driving. In a paper comparing cell phone use while driving and the drunk driver the authors concluded that:

When drivers were conversing on either a handheld or hands-free cell phone, their braking reactions were delayed and they were involved in more traffic accidents than when they were not conversing on a cell phone.

A seminal study was published in the New England Journal of Medicine that evaluated the cellphone records of 699 individuals from the Toronto area who had been involved in non-injury traffic accidents. The study concluded that the risk of a collision when using a cellular telephone was four times higher than the risk when a cellular telephone was not being used

There’s a recent article in The New York Times (thanks to Stephen Seckler at Counsel to Counsel for the pointer) that’s worth a read.

The Ontario Medical Association recently published a paper in which they review the literature on both behavioural and experimental studies and conclude that a strong association between cellphone use while driving and cognitive distraction which leads to deterioration in various driving performance measures and an increase in unsafe, collision-prone driving.

Leaving aside fines under the legislation, and potential tragic consequences, there are liability issues that an employer needs to be aware of. For an eye opening outline of some of them, have a read of Cell Phone Use in Car Leads to $5.2 Million Payout by Employer. If you’re a lawyer, read this one.


  1. Ontario certainly has a penchant for regulating and Ontario lawyers don’t seem to have much of a problem with it. It is not going to be easy, however, to enforce the prohibition of the use of cell phones, etc by a vehicle driver. The driver may be eating a sandwich, for example. From even a short distance, however, it might look like he or she is using a cell phone. Or a driver could quickly tuck away the cell phone (so it is not visible to the driver) if the driver sees a police car. The only effective way to enforce this kind of law would be to prohibit carrying a cell phone in the vehicle at all – kind of like is done with an open bottle of liquor.

    Statistics are wonderful but I bet a study would also show that a driver is more likely to have an accident if distracted by a couple of noisy kids in the back seat(than driving alone or with adult company). If so it would be logical to ban noisy kids from cars.

  2. David,

    You raise an interesting point. A trucker was recently fined under the Smoke-Free Ontario Act for smoking in the workplace (his truck). In a Globe article, the spokesperson for the OPP said that “You’re taking a hand off your wheel to light your cigarette. Then you’re looking down to put your cigarette out, so you’re not paying attention, you’re not giving your whole 100-per-cent attention to driving, especially on the 401”. So, there you have it and that was part of the debate surrounding Bill 118 and how far to go.

    For more on this recent case, have a read of this post.

  3. I think everyone has forgotten that it is a privilege to drive not a right. Driving safe takes all your focus and distractions are already too numerous. Any added distractions put in a car by the owner should be illegal. If you were in the middle of your road test and fail to use both hands on the wheel you would not pass your exam. Police don’t have time to enforce these rules as they can not enforce what is already on the books. I live in northern Ontario, “Sudbury” and drivers fail to stop for pedestrians in crosswalks as a routine way of driving. It is the law to stop for pedestrians at marked crosswalks and even a simple 4 way stop is dangerous as most people don’t stop completely and don’t respect the rules of driving. I fear that this ignorant disregard to correct people’s driving habits will lead to a fatality. As most Sudbury drivers are ignorant to this law, if they travel to Toronto it is likely that they will mow down a Toronto resident as they are complacent to just walk out at a marked crosswalk with total expectation that drivers know to stop. The holding the phone is not the issue, it is the distraction on the device that needs to be banned.

  4. Driving is privilege, not a right, but once obtain a driver’s licence it becomes a right not a privilege, and this right is charter protected.

    Someone should explain this to the MOT.

    I would guessimate that 90% of the crosswalks and crossovers in Ontario are not legal. Both require a large “X” road surface marking in each lane of traffic before the crosswalk and crossover.

    I would guessimate that 90% of all road signs in Ontario are not valid and can be totally ignored by drivers thanks to the French Language Services Act.

    I know for fact I can get 99% of the driver’s charged with an offence completely off thanks to the government using invalid offence notice forms.

    I know for fact that not one person charged with an offence commenced under the POA was convicted properly.

    Since the POA was enacted in 1990, the guessimated government fraud on citiznes in Ontario is 50 BILLION dollars.

    The recent 1 bilion dollar eHealth scam is nothing compared to the POA scam the government has been pulling on people since 1990.

  5. Has anyone bothered to actually read the regulations of Bill 118? From a purely technical point of view, they make no sense at all. Not to mention that the regulation and licensing of all transmitters (two way radios)is the responsibility of the Spectrum Management Branch of Industry Canada. MTO has NO jurisdiction over radio transmitters. Bit of a problem here…….

  6. MTO is not purporting to regulate radio transmitters. They are regulating driving, in the interests of demonstrable safety. I do not foresee any court in the country finding that the regulation about drivers’ use of CB or other radios, or phones for that matter (also federally regulated with respect to service criteria and spectrum use), is invalid as infringing on federal jurisdiction.