Ottawa

Tougher penalties for texting and driving in Ontario start Jan. 1

Stiffer fines and long-term consequences are coming for distracted drivers in Ontario in 2019.

Province says it will have Canada's toughest penalties for repeat distracted drivers

Const. Sean Ralph works in traffic enforcement with Ottawa Police Service. He's taking part on a crackdown on distracting driving. (Sandra Abma/CBC)

Stiffer fines and long-term consequences are coming for distracted drivers in Ontario in 2019.

Most drivers caught, talking, texting, dialing or emailing on a handheld device will be fined up to $1,000 — more than double the current fine.

Additional penalties include a three-day licence suspension and three demerit points. And that's just the beginning.

"It's really going to cost you, but there's a reason for that," said Const. Sean Ralph of the Ottawa police. 

"It's a major infraction right up there with impaired driving."  

Const. Sean Ralph with the Ottawa police traffic unit talks about their hopes for Ontario's changes. 1:01

Ontario is ringing in the new year with the new penalties, making it a good time for drivers to make a resolution to keep their hands off their devices while behind the wheel. 

For a second conviction within five years, the maximum fine rises to $2,000, plus six demerit points and a seven-day driver's licence suspension.

More convictions within that five-year period would be an even bigger hit to the wallet at a fine up to $3,000, six demerit points and a 30-day suspension.

On top of that, convicted motorists can expect their insurance rates to go up. 

Const. Sean Ralph looks for distracted drivers from the window of a school bus that drives through the streets of Ottawa. (CBC)

Distracted drivers are the leading cause of fatal collisions in Ontario, according to police.

But in spite of safety campaigns, police crackdowns, and increased fines, texting and driving is still rampant.   

"It's really education through enforcement," said Ralph, who hopes higher fines will change behaviour on the road.

"The last thing I want to do, especially this time of year, is do a death notification." 

Distracted drivers are behind more fatal collisions in Ontario than any other factor, according to police. (CBC)

Toughest penalties for new drivers

Drivers with a graduated (G1, G2, M1 or M2) licence face even harsher penalties.

Texting a friend? Answering a phone call? Looking up an address? If you're doing any of those things behind the wheel, you're breaking the law.

Those drivers face the same fines as more experienced drivers, plus:

  • 30-day licence suspensions for a first conviction,
  • 90-day licence suspensions for a second conviction,
  • licence cancellations for a third conviction.

The penalties are the same whether the motorist is using a cellphone while driving or sitting at a red light.

Ontario's Transportation Minister Jeff Yurek said last month these will be Canada's toughest penalties for repeat distracted driving convictions.

The only exceptions are to call 911 in an emergency situation or when the driver is either lawfully parked or safely pulled off the road — which is only allowed on a 400-series highway for an emergency.