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Could Distracted Driving Become a Criminal Offence?

guy and girl in a car while guy is texting

Pegah Memarpour, freelance columnist for Pardon Applications of Canada, explores the recent phenomena of distracted driving in Canada, and suggests that the offence could become criminal if current trends continue.

Over the last 5 years Canadians have seen distracted driving become the focus of provincial laws and law enforcement agencies nationwide. With the arrival of new technologies, including smartphone watches and various handheld devices, governments and police organizations are toughening sanctions against this form of driving offence.

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To date, distracted driving is quoted to be the main causal factor in 30-50% of traffic collisions in Ontario. Distracted driving, in respects to the use of electronic devices, has also been responsible for 39 of the provinces fatal crashes this year alone.

Over the past three years, as punishments have increased, there have been approximately 253,000 charges laid by the OPP, and 10,000 as of June, 2014.

Although the statistics vary across provinces and territories, the findings are very similar across Canada. Unfortunately, regardless of the increasing fines, many users of the road (especially youth) admit to texting while driving.

A recent survey from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) found that more than one out of every three licensed Ontario students (grade 10-12) or 108,000 teens, have used their phones to send or receive text messages while behind the wheel this past year.

As the concern against distracted driving rises across the country, many police forces and companies have been attempting to spread awareness regarding how dangerous distracted driving can truly be.

The CAA has even created a virtual simulation on their website explaining how distracting using electronic devices while driving can actually be. The simulation explains that it takes approximately 33.6 seconds to view a text message, while it takes 10.6 seconds to answer a phone call while driving.

As reflected in the simulation: If you are driving on a city street, going 60km/h and your phone rings, if you go to answer it, you will take your eyes off the road for 10.6 seconds. At which point you would have just travelled 191 meters (or three 747 jets from end-to-end) with your eyes off the road.

Which is the amount of time needed to pass through 2 intersections or 35 parked cars. Try a simulation.

That being said, the dangers of distracted driving are apparent even without the simulation to prove it. And governments are taking notice. The sanctions against distracted driving vary across provinces. In Newfoundland and PEI, the fines are approximately $400, while in Quebec it ranges from $114 to $160. In Ontario, the fines currently range from $60 to $500. However, as concerns are raised about the severity of using electronic devices while driving the punishments are expected to increase.

The reintroduction of a distracted driving bill, put forth by the Liberal government due to be introduced this fall, is aiming to increase penalties for drivers who use their cellphones on the road.

If the bill is passed, texting and driving is warranting a fine of $1000 and 3 demerit points. The aggressiveness of these sanctions are in an attempt to curb the rise of distracted driving incidents, which is said to be the new number one killer on the road.

According to the OPP it has caused more fatalities in 2013 than impaired driving or speed-related accidents.
The desire of this new initiative is to make distracted driving as socially unacceptable as impaired driving.

Drinking and driving, which was the focus of government and organizations for many years, has been said to have decreased over the last 20 years as a result of public awareness and tougher punishments.

However, there are those who oppose increased driving legislations, as they believe it may exasperate the situation. Attempting to hide or conceal one’s phone while driving may place the driver and other users of the road in more danger as their eyes are off the road for a longer period of time, according to a study by the Frontier Centre for Public Policy. Drivers may try to view their phone while holding it in their lap, as oppose to in front of the steering wheel where they are still able to see the road.

The study asserts that distracted driving deaths may be increasing because of these new sanctions placed on drivers.

If distracted driving becomes as serious of an issue as impaired driving, the potential for this offence to become a criminal code violation may arise. In which case, Canadians can expect penalties similar to impaired driving, which in turn hold more punitive sentences and would appear on a criminal record – changing the way we see using our phones and driving all together.

Pegah Memarpour is a freelance columnist for Pardon Applications of Canada, the nationwide processing firm for Canadian Pardon (Record Suspension) & U.S. Entry Waiver applications. The opinions expressed are that of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Pardon Applications of Canada. For a list of statistical references used in this article, or more information on Pardon Applications of Canada, call 866-383-9744 or email: info@pardonapplications.com.