Toronto police's 'zero tolerance' crackdown on distracted drivers kicks off

Frustrated by a lack of progress on road safety in the city, Toronto police are launching a week-long crackdown on distracted drivers.

'It's disappointing that we have to keep doing these blitzes,' said Mayor John Tory

Toronto police officers have noticed drivers increasingly trying to hide their phones in their laps while they drive, according to Supt. Scott Baptist. (David Horemans/CBC)

Frustrated by a lack of progress on road safety in the city, Toronto police are launching a week-long crackdown on distracted drivers.

The campaign begins Monday and will include officers on TTC buses and streetcars looking for drivers trying to use phones or other devices out of sight.

"Distracted driving continues to be a major contributor to deaths and injuries and collisions. Including, in particular, those involving pedestrians and cyclists." said Toronto Mayor John Tory last week. 

"It must become a thing of the past."

The effort comes just weeks after new provincial guidelines for distracted driving punishments came into effect. First-time offenders will face a fine of at least $615, and up to $1,000, and three demerit points. As of Jan. 1 this year, the Ministry of Transportation also has the option to suspend a driver's licence for up to three days for their first conviction.

The penalties get stiffer upon a driver's second and third offences with increased fines and longer suspensions. 

According to Toronto police Supt. Scott Baptist, officers have increasingly reported seeing drivers hiding their phones in their laps while operating their vehicles. Plain clothes officers stationed on public transit will be especially keen on targeting those offenders, he said. 

"Distracted driving is a serious community safety issue and one that can have tragic results," Baptist told reporters at police headquarters.

"This behaviour is entirely preventable and completely unnecessary."

Officers will also be patrolling the streets in pick up trucks and vans, said Sgt. Bret Moore.

"The idea is to get the officers up, off the ground as high as possible to have the best view inside a vehicle to see what drivers are doing," he explained.

Parallel tag and tow campaign

Toronto police issued 9,045 tickets for distracted driving in 2018, Baptist said. He added that U.S. studies have suggested that drivers talking on mobile devices, whether handheld or hands-free, are significantly more likely to be involved in a crash than drivers who are focused solely on the road. The chances of crashing increase considerably for those texting and driving. 

The ambient city environment is distracting enough for most drivers, Baptist said.

"We all know things can happen on the road in a blink of an eye, especially in the busy urban environment of our city," he added.

The crackdown on distracted drivers will be paralleled by a "zero tolerance" tag and tow campaign that will target vehicles blocking busy streets during rush hour. 

The city has run similar efforts before but it seems that many drivers are not receiving the message, Tory said.

"It's disappointing that we have to keep doing these blitzes," he said. 

Police have issued some 6,000 tickets for lane blocking over the last four years, according to Tory. More than 1,000 vehicles have been towed. 

"We'd like to make those numbers lower," Tory told reporters. 

Offenders will face a $150 fine, and those unlucky enough to have their vehicles towed will need to pay from $200 to $300 more to retain their vehicles from a police impound lot. 

The tag and tow campaign will run until Feb. 1, Baptist said. 

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