A three-month grace period for Ontario drivers violating the province's new law against driving while using a cellphone is ending, meaning offending motorists are now subject to fines of up to $500.
Bill 118, commonly known as the distracted-driving law, came into effect on Oct. 26.
The provincial government asked enforcement officials to hold off fining drivers for three months as they adjusted to the new rules. Instead, police issued hundreds of warnings across the province during what they called an "educational period."
But starting Monday, authorities will start handing out fines — ranging from a minimum of $155 to a maximum of $500 — to drivers who talk on their handheld cellphones. The ban also covers texting or emailing while behind the wheel, or using portable video games or DVD players.
Talking on a hands-free device is permitted.
There are no demerit points attached to the offence, but drivers who place others at risk by using one of the banned devices can also be charged under the existing careless driving laws.
Some users of hand-held devices who were judged to be driving recklessly have already been charged.
Decrease already noted
Over the past three months, officers have charged more than 60 people across the province with distracted driving, said Ontario Provincial Police Sgt. Dave Woodford.
He said he has seen a decrease in cellphone use among drivers on Ontario highways.
"We're used to [seeing in] every other vehicle … someone on their cellphone or texting. Now it's very rare that you're going to see anybody [on a phone]," he said.
"As soon as they see a cruiser, the first thing they do is get rid of the cellphone," he added with a chuckle.
Sgt. Tim Burrows of Toronto police's traffic services department said just seven people have been charged in the city since the law came into effect.
"Which is good in [the sense] that if that's all that's warranted, I think we've got a good sign of things to come," he said.