Tougher distracted driving fines take effect

February’s Traffic Safety Spotlight is focused on distracted driving, just as fines increased on February 1, according to a release. SGI and law enforcement hope to see fewer tickets during February focus.

 “Distracted driving is a serious safety concern in our province, and on roads all over the country,” said Joe Hargrave, minister responsible for SGI. “We hope by introducing tougher penalties, and especially strong penalties for repeat offenders, it will mean fewer people driving distracted and fewer tickets issued.”

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What’s new: Here are the consequences distracted drivers can expect as of February 1:

•           First offence – ticket more than doubles to $580, plus four demerits.

•           Second offence within a year of being convicted of the first - $1,400 ticket, plus an additional four demerits, plus an immediate, seven-day vehicle seizure. Vehicle owners are responsible for the towing and impound fees (cost varies according to mileage, but expect to pay approximately $400 at least).

•           Third offence within a year of conviction of the first - $2,100 ticket, plus four more demerits and another seven-day vehicle seizure.

The demerits could also cost the driver insurance discounts they had earned, or if they are on the negative side of the SGI Safe Driver Recognition (SDR) scale, additional financial penalties, at $50 for every point below zero, continued the release. If a driver started at zero, and received three distracted driving tickets in a year, they would have to pay a total of $1,200 in SDR financial penalties, on top of the other financial impacts.

What’s not changing: While the cost of a ticket is increasing, the laws around distracted driving remain the same. Hand-held devices are prohibited for learner, novice and experienced drivers, although experienced drivers can use hands-free functions on mounted devices through voice commands or one-touch. The vast majority of distracted driving tickets that are issued by law enforcement are related to cell phone use. In addition, drivers can receive a ticket if an officer witnesses behaviours that they can prove take a driver’s attention away from the road to the point they are operating their vehicle in an unsafe manner.

In 2018, driver distraction or inattention was a factor in more than 6,000 collisions, resulting in 774 injuries and 22 deaths. In 2019, distracted driving set three monthly records for the number of tickets issued.