Using a cell phone while driving: how bad can it really be? Even if you think you drive a motor vehicle just fine when you’re on your phone, research shows that you’re most definitely wrong. This is part of the reason why the issue is worse than most people think with accidents caused by cell phone use and driver distraction on the increase. The danger of using a cell phone while driving is substantial and provincial governments are starting to take notice of this issue as a public health crisis with an increase in vehicle crashes.
The Dangers of Distracted Driving
Using a cell phone while driving, otherwise known as distracted driving, is dangerous. It’s a matter of simple math. If you’re driving a car going 80 KPH and you look down at your phone for five seconds, there’s a good chance that you could come up against an unseen obstacle in that time. From deer to pedestrians and other cars or objects like trees, there are so many dangers on the road. Distracted driving occurs when you turn your attention away from those potential dangers and focus it on something else.
Think about it this way. Next time you send a text message, time yourself. Even if you’re using predictive text and writing a short message, chances are that it’s going to take you 10 seconds or more to read the message you want to respond to, type out your message, send it and check to make sure it’s been delivered. When you go through this process while driving, that’s 10 seconds you spend focused on something other than the world around you. Even if you look up periodically while you’re typing, you’re still missing out on a lot.
To put an even finer point on it, experts estimate that distracted driving is responsible for thousands of driver deaths each year, and this number is skyrocketing as more and more people become fixated on their digital technology. Some experts argue that the dangers associated with distracted driving are more significant than the dangers associated with driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Given how severe the penalties are against driving under the influence in Ontario, it’s no surprise that the provincial government is taking a similar stand against distracted driving.
Legally Speaking, What is Distracted Driving?
In Ontario, laws relating to traffic safety and driving while using a cell phone fall under the category of “distracted driving,” a term that applies to any kind of distraction in a car. This means it’s not just your cell phone but also GPS systems and even analog things like books. Even eating in your car is considered a distraction according to the law in Ontario. Anything that causes you to turn your full attention away from the task of driving can fall into the category of distracted driving.
This has some serious implications that drivers should note as it could still cause car accidents. Using a headset and talking on your hands-free cell phone or texting on another hands-free device in the car does not necessarily mean that you won’t be charged with distracted driving. If your attention is pulled away from the road by anything, even a cup of coffee and your driving catches the attention of a law enforcement agent, you could end up charged with cell phone use and/or distracted driving. If your behavior causes an accident or other problems, you could be facing some serious legal trouble as the distracted driving charge will likely accompany other charges. For example, if you strike a pedestrian because you were looking down at your hands-free phone while driving, you’ll probably face a range of charges related to hitting the pedestrian in addition to the distracted driving offence.
This is an important point to remember: distracted driving is a safety issue for the community as a whole, not just the person operating the vehicle. It’s the same with driving while intoxicated. These offences are seen as particularly serious because the driver acts without regard to the safety of others.
Legal Danger: Risks beyond Safety
If your own safety and the safety of those around you isn’t enough to convince you that distracted driving is a bad idea—and, really, that should be enough—consider the legal ramifications of distracted driving. Penalties for distracted driving in Ontario vary based on what kind of driver’s license you have and other factors, but you could find yourself paying more than $1500 and earning some demerit points on your license on top of that. When you accrue enough demerit points, you end up having to pay extra and may even have your license suspended.
Distracted driving just isn’t worth the risk and it’s best to simply put your phone down while you’re driving. Sometimes, though, we really do have to pay attention to our technology. It could be that your GPS or smartphone navigation system isn’t working properly or is sending you an alert you need to look at. You may be in an emergency medical situation and need to get in contact with emergency services. There are so many situations that necessitate the use of technology and sometimes these situations occur while we’re driving.
Ideally, you’ll pull over or get off the road entirely before you pick up your phone. If you don’t, you might get caught by police and ticketed for your offence. When this happens, you should contact a lawyer to work with you. Fighting in court without a lawyer is not a good idea in this instance because, if you lose, you could end up having to pay extra on top of the initial fine.
The best way to avoid getting in trouble for distracted driving is to not do it in the first place. Do you really want to risk your life just to send a text or read a comment notification? The choice is yours, as is the responsibility. But the risk you take on could impact people other than yourself. Aside from the danger, a distracted driver poses to other people on the road, the fines you pay could have an impact on your family. If you make a mistake and need legal help, we’re here to assist you.