Ontario’s Liberal government is hoping to send a strong message to drivers in Canada’s most-populace province: if you’re driving, keep your eyes on the road. It’s proposing a set of tough new penalties for drivers who kill or injure others while driving carelessly including jail time and fines of up to $50,000.
“Dangerous, impaired, and distracted driving is unacceptable, and will not be tolerated,” said Steven Del Duca, Ontario’s transportation minister. “Ontario is taking action to reduce the number of people killed by impaired, distracted, and dangerous drivers. These measures will help keep some of our most vulnerable road users safe.”
While many Ontarians grasp the seriousness of impaired driving, the proposed legislation is partially geared towards tackling the increasingly devastating problem of texting and driving. According to a recent poll done by insurance company Aviva, 88% of Canadians said they had seen people texting behind the wheel, while 95% said they were fearful of others’ texting while driving. The survey cites 2014 RCMP statistics that show, in four-out-of-five collisions, the driver has their eyes off the road for just three seconds prior to crash.
Harsh Penalties Proposed Across the Board
While the legislation must first be debated and passed in the provincial legislature before the rules take effect, the new penalties would see considerably higher fines and punishments for anyone found guilty of careless driving.
The heaviest punishment would go to distracted or careless drivers who kill or “cause bodily harm” to another. Under the new legislation, they’d face fines between $2,000 and $50,000, along with jail time of up to two years, six demerit points, and a licence suspension of up to five years.
There would be new penalties for distracted drivers across the board, as well. The planned legislation would see distracted drivers get a licence suspension of three days (a first for Canada), and a fine of up to $1,000 for your first offence. This is over and above the affect it will have on your auto insurance rates. For repeat offenders, fines will increase with every subsequent offence, with six demerit points being given out for multiple offences. There are also plans to increase the fines for impaired driving and for novice drivers who violate the current zero tolerance policy.
Given that 25% of all road fatalities in Ontario are pedestrians or cyclists, the new rules will include a maximum $1,000 fine and four demerit points for any driver who fails to yield to a pedestrian.
Advocates Applaud Proposed Legislation
For many advocates in Ontario, the proposed penalties would be a welcome move in a province that many say has been too lax on careless drivers.
"It's definitely a step in the right direction and just fabulous news for us,” Heather Sim told CBC. Her father, Gary Sim, was killed while cycling in Toronto this past summer. The driver who killed him was charged with making an illegal turn (which came with two demerit points) and fined $500 fine. “I kind of thought this can’t be right, there’s got to be more than this,” she said.
The proposed legislation will be debated in the Ontario legislature this fall.