Ontario drivers face some changes on the road starting today that include a stiffer set of penalties for distracted driving, and new rules to help protect cyclists and tow truck drivers.
"Since 2009, more than 500 people have died in collisions in OPP-controlled roads, in which driver inattention was a causal factor," said Sgt. Dave Rektor of Ontario Provincial Police. "Statistically speaking, distracted driving has exceeded impaired driving as a causal factor in fatal collisions."
Rektor said texting or checking a phone while driving aren't the only behaviours deemed as distracted driving, which incorporates anything that takes a driver's eyes off the road.
"Fussing with kids in the back of the car, pushing buttons on a stereo, reaching for something—anything that distracts you from driving [counts]," he said.
Here's a look at the changes (note that the court fee and the victim fine surcharge fee are included in the fine totals):
1. Distracted driving
Drivers convicted of distracted driving now face a minimum fine of $490 and three demerit points with the maximum set at $1,000. The previous minimum was a $280 fine in Ontario.
That's still less than fines for distracted driving in P.E.I., the costliest in the country, which start at a $500 minimum and go to a maximum of $1,200, plus five demerit points. Drivers in Manitoba convicted of distracted driving will also get five demerit points, but the fine is lower at just $200.
2. Hitting cyclists or vehicles with door
Motorists who open their doors without looking, causing cyclists to crash into them, now face a minimum fine of $365 and three demerit points. The previous minimum fines were $60 to $500, according to the Ontario Ministry of Transportation.
3. Passing cyclists
Ontario drivers must leave at least one metre of space when passing cyclists where possible, or face a minimum fine of $110 and two demerit points. The fine increases to $180 if motorists don't leave enough space when passing cyclists in a community safety zone.
4. Bicycle lighting
Cyclists who ride without proper bike lights and reflectors now face a minimum fine of $110, up from $20.
That fine is slightly higher than Alberta, where cyclists may face a $100 for riding a bike at night without lights. In Quebec, cyclists face a fine of $37 if they don't have proper reflectors, and an additional $36 fine for riding at night without lights.
5. Tow trucks
In Ontario, drivers are required to slow down and move over to give space to emergency vehicles stopped on the side of the road. The province has expanded this rule to include tow trucks. The minimum fine for failing to slow down and move over is $490.
Rektor mentioned an incident about eight years ago when a tow truck driver near London was pulled over on the side of the road and was struck by a transport truck driver who was passing by.
"It's memories like that that just make you so thankful for the move-over law as an emergency rescuer," he said. "The law's in place to save those things from happening."