Since 2008, every province and territory in Canada — with the exception of Nunavut — has created laws to deal with cellphone use by drivers.

Under legislation introduced recently in Ontario, judges would be able to fine offenders between $300 and $1,000 for distracted driving, up from a current range of $60 to $500. Convicted drivers under this law would also receive three demerit points.  

The current Ontario fine of $280 for distracted driving had just come into effect on March 18, 2014, and is an increase from $155. The fine is for people who plead guilty. If someone is found guilty at a hearing, a justice of the peace can impose a fine of up to $500.

As things stand, convicted drivers do not receive demerit points. But that will change under the new legislation, as will the fine range (up to $1,000) allowed JPs.

hi-crotches-kill

Alberta took a playful approach, targeting drivers looking into their laps to read messages and telling them "Crotches Kill." ((Government of Alberta))

Although much of the discussion about distracted driving focuses on hand-held electronic devices such as cellphones,Toronto police say the offence applies to "any action that a driver engages in [that] takes their focus away from the safe operation of a motor vehicle."

Ontario Provincial Police have said that distracted driving is the "number one killer on the roads." The OPP said 78 people died in crashes related to distracted driving on roads they patrol in 2013, compared with 57 deaths related to impaired driving and 44 related to speed.

Elsewhere in Canada, fines range from $100 in the Northwest Territories and Newfoundland and Labrador to $280 in Saskatchewan. In some provinces, fines rise with the number of offences.

In Alberta, the legislation on distracted driving also includes reading, writing, hygiene and other activities.

While some complain that prohibitions against driving and texting are the hallmark of a nanny state, and argue that common sense should prevail, others are lobbying for even more stringent fines to address the severity of the modern-day addiction to connectivity.

"You pick up bodies for 27 years, it pisses you off," says Tim Baillie, a retired firefighter from Surrey, B.C. "Ever since those damned things came in, there's been distractions. It's getting worse and worse and worse."

Laws across the country

Location What is banned? Demerit Fine
B.C. Hand-held devices, plus novice drivers using hands-free equipment 3 $167
Alberta Holding or viewing a communications device, reading, writing and any other distraction None $172
Sask. Hand-held communication equipment, plus novice drivers going hands-free 4 $280
Manitoba Hand-held electronic devices None $199.80
Ontario Hand-held wireless communication devices None $280*
Quebec Hand-held devices that include a phone function, plus using it hands-free 3 $115-154
N.B. Hand-held electronic devices 3 $172.50
Nova Scotia Hand-held cell phones, plus text messaging on any device None $164-$337
P.E.I. Hand-held wireless communication devices 3 $250-400
N.L. Hand-held cell phones, plus text messaging on any device 4 $100-400
Yukon Hand-held devices for talking, texting and emailing, plus graduated licence holders can't go hands-free 3 $250
N.W.T. Hand-held electronic devices 3 $100
Nunavut None -- --

Source: Transport Canada, CAA

*Drivers endangering others by using hand-held or hands-free devices can be charged with careless driving, which brings fines up to $2,000. Under proposed legislation, judges would be able to fine offenders between $300 and $1,000 for distracted driving alone.

With files from Amber Hildebrandt