Distracted Driving: Upping the Ante

A New Bill to Improve Road Safety

The catastrophic injuries and devastating losses that can happen from accidents due to impaired driving have become known by most. Responsible drivers do not drink and drive: they call a cab, use public transit or have a designated sober driver. Responsible drivers consider other factors that could also impair their ability to control their motor vehicle, including drugs or inattention.

Distracted driving legislation has been law since 2009 but we continue to see offenders every day: how many of us have been tempted to sneak a text or take a quick call while driving? This past summer, the Ontario Provincial Police reported that almost 50 percent of high school drivers admitted to texting while driving. According to the OPP, inattention had surpassed both impairment and speed related road deaths last year. In motor vehicle lawsuits, distracted driving has even become a key liability issue including requiring the production of cell phone records.

In an effort to improve road safety, the Ontario Government intends to get tough on the use of handheld devices by increasing fines to a minimum of $300 and up to $1,000. Similarly, drivers who door a cyclist could now face fines between $300 and $1,000. Additionally, the new legislation seeks to impose impaired driving penalties to impairment from drugs or a combination of drugs and alcohol.

Bill 31: Making Ontario’s Roads Safer, 2014, was introduced late last month. The government views these stiffer penalties as a way to keep our roads safe. Minister of Transportation Steven Del Duca said

“If passed, our legislation will help keep pedestrians, drivers and cyclists safe on Ontario’s roads. Thanks to our legacy of tough laws, strong enforcement and partnerships with many dedicated road safety partners, Ontario’s roads are among the safest in North America and these new measures are intended to keep it that way.”

Others might argue that the stiff penalty for the use of handheld devices is just a cash grab. Anyone who lives in the GTA knows that as the commute grows so does the desire to get things done and not just waste so much time in gridlock. The dangers, however, are real. Texting, dialing, or finding a phone number takes your attention away from the road. Inattention can cause you to lose control. In a split second, you can miss seeing the car ahead of you put on their brakes, a cyclist coming alongside you, or a pedestrian stepping off the curb.

Responsible drivers pay attention. Responsible people speak up. Let’s be responsible and keep a watchful eye behind the wheel.

Barbara A. MacFarlane is an OTLA Director (Chair of Women’s Trial Lawyers’ Caucus) and a partner and head of the Personal Injury Group at Torkin Manes, LLP.

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Barbara is a partner of Torkin Manes LLP Barristers & Solicitors and head of our Medical Malpractice and Personal Injury Groups, with a civil litigation practice focused on catastrophic injury and fatalities. Her cases include wrongful death, motor vehicle accidents, product liability, tavern liability and complex medical negligence cases. Barb is experienced Trial Counsel and has appeared as lead Appellate Counsel in the Ontario Court of Appeal. She regularly represents clients in the Superior Court, at Coroners’ Inquests and various administrative Tribunals. Barb has been involved in many complex litigation matters, including class actions.

Barb is Chair of the Women’s Trial Lawyers Caucus of the Ontario Trial Lawyers Association.