Stiffer penalties for distracted driving and new impaired driving laws now in effect.
With the ringing in of the new year, there are new higher penalties for distracted driving in Ontario. There are also amendments to existing impaired laws and fines, both federally and provincially, to further encourage drivers to not drive impaired.
Distracted driving penalties in Ontario
Drivers caught using a hand-held device to talk, text, or email while driving are going to learn the hard way that the province has upped the ante on distracted driving. Higher fines, demerit points and licence suspensions are now the new norm upon conviction.
For first-time offenders, the maximum fine is $1,000, along with three demerit points and a three-day driver’s licence suspension. If you get caught a second and third time, the penalties grow. For a second conviction the maximum fine is $2,000, six demerit points and a seven-day licence suspension, while a third could cost you an additional $3,000, six demerit points and a 30-day suspension.
For novice drivers (with a G1 or G2 licence), the financial penalties are the same as above, however, the licence suspensions are lengthier. For a first conviction the licence suspension is 30 days and for a second, it’s 90. Get a third and your licence will be cancelled altogether and you’ll have to start the graduated licensing system all over again.
These aren’t the only penalties for distracted driving. There’s also the auto insurance implications of having this ticket on your driving record too. At minimum, you can expect it to affect the premiums you pay for three years.
New alcohol-impaired driving laws and penalties
Impaired driving laws and penalties have also changed. On December 18, 2018 the federal government enacted changes to the Criminal Code that gave police officers Canada-wide the ability to request a breathalyzer of any driver they lawfully stop. Refusing to comply with the request comes with a minimum $2,000 penalty for first-time offenders and possible jail time for repeat offenders.
Previously, a breathalyzer could only be requested if there was a suspicion that the driver had recently consumed alcohol.
The Government of Canada has also changed the financial penalties for first-time offenders. Depending on the driver’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) reading the mandatory minimum fine could be $1,000 (for a reading of 80 mg to 119 mg), $1,500 (120-159 mg) or $2,000 for a reading of 160 mg or more. Repeat offenders face jail time.
These federal financial penalties are in addition to the penalties handed out by the province, which may include a licence suspension, vehicle impoundment, and even further fines and fees.
There are also new provincial fines for drivers whose BAC level falls within the warn range (50 mg to 79 mg). Along with the automatic roadside licence suspension drivers will have to pay $250 for a first offence, $350 for a second offence within 5 years, and $450 for a third. And this is on top of the existing $275 fee for getting your licence reinstated.
Drug-impaired driving penalties
Of course, driving while impaired isn’t just about alcohol. With the legalization of cannabis in mid-October of last year drug-impaired driving laws were also beefed up in advance of its decriminalization. The following is a summary of the penalties for a first-time offence for driving under the influence of cannabis:
• If you’re caught driving with 2 nanograms (ng) of THC per millilitre (ml) of blood but less than 5 ng, you’ll face a maximum fine of $1,000.
• If you have more than 5 ng of THC in your system, you’ll face a mandatory minimum fine of $1,000.
• If you have a blood alcohol concentration of 5 mg and 2.5 ng of THC in your system, you’ll face a mandatory minimum fine of $1,000.
And like being alcohol impaired while driving, there’s always the risk of jail time.
Road safety in Canada
According to Canada’s Road Safety Strategy 2025, each year in Canada almost 1,800 people are killed and 162,000 are injured on our roads. With these additional deterrents now in place, perhaps these numbers will decrease. Let’s make our roads the safest they can be. Do your part and don’t drive impaired or distracted.