Driving with a handheld device? Ontario Distracted Driving Laws 101

Posted: February 23, 2024
By: The Law Firm of Ted Yoannou


What is Distracted Driving in Ontario?

Distracted driving is when a person driving a vehicle is distracted by other things or activities that take the driver’s attention away from the road. This can include using mobile phones, texting, talking with passengers, changing the radio and GPS inputs.

Distracted Driving represents one of the most significant issues on Ontario roads today. According to the OPP, it has recently surpassed impaired driving as the number one cause of fatalities on the roads, accounting for about 20% of road fatalities.[1]

Distracted driving is preventable, and drivers are encouraged to do their part and dedicate themselves to avoiding driving while distracted to prevent the countless accidents, injuries, and deaths on Ontario roads.

More significantly, as of January 1st, 2019, the penalties for distracted driving in the province increased, and the fines are among the highest in Canada for these offences.

Distracted Driving Statistics

Nearly 75% of Canadian drivers admit to distracted driving, and if you engage in texting and driving, you are 23 times more likely to crash. The Ministry of Transportation has noted that research demonstrates that “drivers who use cell phones are four times more likely to be in a collision than drivers who focus on the road. And their crash risk doubles when drivers take their eyes off the road for more than two seconds.”[2]

Distracted Driving Laws and Rules in Ontario

According to the Ontario Ministry of Transportation, it is against the law to:

  • Hold a phone or mobile device while driving.
  • Operate hand-held electronic devices while driving.
  • View display screens that are unrelated to driving.[3]

While hand-held devices would intuitively suggest cellphones, the law’s application is broader, and this definition can include the use of:

  • Infotainment systems
  • iPad/Tablets
  • Hand-held video games
  • Laptops
  • GPS (unless it is mounted)[4]

Ontario Highway Traffic Act and Distracted Driving[5]

The Highway Traffic Act states:

78 (1) No person shall drive a motor vehicle on a highway if the display screen of a television, computer or other devices in the motor vehicle is visible to the driver.

Hand-held devices prohibited

Wireless communication devices

78.1 (1) No person shall drive a motor vehicle on a highway while holding or using a hand-held wireless communication device or other prescribed device that is capable of receiving or transmitting telephone communications, electronic data, mail or text messages.

Entertainment devices

(2) No person shall drive a motor vehicle on a highway while holding or using a hand-held electronic entertainment device or other prescribed device, the primary use of which is unrelated to the safe operation of the motor vehicle.

Hands-free mode allowed

(3) Despite subsections (1) and (2), a person may drive a motor vehicle on a highway while using a device described in those subsections in hands-free mode.

Hand-Free Permissions

Under Section 78.1(3), the Highway Traffic Act permits the use of devices hands-free. The Ministry of Transportation has provided further guidance on what devices are permitted:[6]

  • A cell phone with an earpiece, headset, or Bluetooth device using voice-activated dialling
  • A GPS Screen
  • A portable media player plugged into the vehicle’s sound system (must activate desired audio before driving)
  • Display screens that are built into the vehicle and used for safety reasons
  • Ignition interlock devices

Fines and Penalties for Distracted Driving in Ontario

If caught driving while distracted, drivers no longer get away with warnings. The most common punishment is a fine and demerit points, which can further harm the driver’s car insurance payments.

Fines, Demerit Points and Suspensions for Fully Licensed Drivers

Below is a breakdown of the punishments for a fully licensed driver caught distracted driving in Ontario. The punishments are progressive insofar as the severity of the punishment increases with subsequent offences.

First Distracted Driving Conviction

  • Fine up to $1,000 (minimum fine of $615 if settled out of court)
  • 3 demerit points
  • 3-day driver’s license suspension

Second Distracted Driving Conviction

  • Fine up to $2,000
  • 6 demerit points
  • 7-day driver’s license suspension

Third and Subsequent Distracted Driving Conviction Within 5 Years

  • Fine up to $3,000
  • 6 demerit points
  • 30-day driver’s license suspension

Distracted Driving Penalties for Novice Drivers

Novice drivers (G1, G2, M1, M2 licenses) face the same fines and penalties as fully licensed drivers. However, they would not be subject to demerit points, and instead, the following suspensions would apply:

  • First Conviction: 30-day license suspension
  • Second Conviction: 90-day license suspension
  • Third Conviction: Cancellation of your license and removal from the Graduated Licensing System

Careless or Dangerous Driving

Being convicted of distracted driving while putting others in danger could have even more severe consequences. The Ministry of Transportation has explained that drivers who endanger others because of any distraction, including hand-held and hands-free devices, may be charged with Careless Driving under the Highway Traffic Act or Dangerous Driving under the Criminal Code of Canada.[7]

If you are convicted of Careless Driving as a result of a distracted driver, you could potentially face the following:

  • 6 demerit points
  • Fines of up to $2,000
  • Jail term of 6 months
  • Up to 2-year license suspension

Depending on the result of driving while distracted, you could also potentially face Dangerous Driving charges, which are criminal offences. You could face:

  • Up to 10 years in jail for causing bodily harm
  • Up to 14 years in jail for causing death

Bottom Line Everyone can choose between driving safely or getting distracted behind the wheel. Make a wise choice and choose not to drive while distracted. Putting the phone away and focusing on the road can save you the time and aggravation accompanying an offence if caught, and more importantly, save your and others’ lives.’

This article was prepared by Teddy Nikolaou, a third-year student at Osgoode Hall Law School, and is intended to provide general information only, and not as specific legal advice.

[1] https://www.thestar.com/politics/provincial/ontario-approves-tougher-distracted-driving-penalties/article_a15289a2-45c5-5ce9-9ac7-514084fe6505.html

[2] https://www.ontario.ca/page/distracted-driving#section-1

[3] https://www.ontario.ca/page/distracted-driving#:~:text=While%20you%20are%20driving%2C%20including,call%20911%20in%20an%20emergency

[4] https://www.ontario.ca/page/distracted-driving#:~:text=While%20you%20are%20driving%2C%20including,call%20911%20in%20an%20emergency

[5] https://www.ontario.ca/laws/statute/90h08#BK151

[6] https://www.ontario.ca/page/ministry-transportation

[7] https://www.ontario.ca/page/ministry-transportation

This article has been prepared for our website for general information purposes only and is not intended as legal advice. Please Contact Us if you wish to review the particular circumstances of your case
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