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What is Distracted Driving?


Distracted driving has occupied the attention of legislators in recent weeks as newly proposed legislation will, if passed, increase fines and result in the assessment of demerit points. Traffic ticket paralegals are seeing an increase in the number of tickets written for distracting driving after Toronto police launched a mid-March “blitz” against drivers who are talking on cellphones. But illegal use of a cellphone is just one way you can be charged with a violation. What is distracted driving and how can you avoid receiving a traffic ticket for the offence?


Distracted driving laws are most often used to punish drivers who talk or text on a cellphone while driving. Under Ontario’s law, you do not need to be talking on your mobile phone. Holding it in your hand while driving is a violation. One Toronto police constable suggests that merely touching your cellphone while driving is an offence. Even if the car is stopped (at a traffic light, for instance), you are not allowed to check your texts or make a quick call. You can only have the cellphone in your hand if your vehicle is fully parked. To use a mobile phone legally if your car is not parked, you need to connect to the phone with a “hands-free” device that lets you keep both hands on the wheel. Unless someone invents a way to send a “hands-free” text, you can never legally send a text (or check your phone for texts) unless your vehicle is parked.


While the illegal use of cellphones is the most common cause of traffic tickets for distracted driving, it is possible to commit the offence in other ways. Traffic ticket paralegals often find it necessary to explain that distracted driving in Ontario consists of any action that removes a driver’s focus from the safe operation of a vehicle. That includes using a laptop, programming a GPS device, or changing the playlist on your iPod unless you have parked your vehicle. Oddly enough, an exception to the law permits drivers to hold a microphone connected to a citizen’s band radio, which seems just as distracting as holding a cellphone.

Every province and territory in Canada except Nunavut has passed a law prohibiting the use of cellphones while driving. Fines range from a low of $100 in Newfoundland and the Northwest Territories to a maximum of $400 in Prince Edward Island. Some provinces and territories impose demerit points while others do not. Fines can be much higher if the use of a device endangers others, resulting in a charge of careless driving.

A certain amount of hysteria surrounds the use of cellphones by drivers, prompting officials in Saskatoon to suggest that vehicles driven by offenders should be impounded and leading others to argue that distracted driving should be a criminal offence that is punished more harshly than drunk driving. Traffic ticket paralegals understand that most people who want to fight a distracted driving ticket have caused no injury and have placed no person at risk. As long as distracted driving remains a priority for police officers, however, more people will need to consult traffic ticket paralegals about the wisdom of fighting traffic tickets issued for distracted driving.


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