Distracted Driving: What you can & cannot do behind the wheel

In Ontario, it is illegal for drivers to talk, text, type, dial or email using hand-held cell phones and other hand-held communications and entertainment devices. Find out the risks of distracted driving, which devices you can and can't use and the penalties you could incur.

Risks of distracted driving

Good drivers keep their hands on the wheel and their eyes on the road. Research shows that drivers who use cell phones are four times more likely to be in a collision than drivers who focus on the road. And when drivers take their eyes off the road for more than two seconds, their crash risk doubles. 

If you're driving while changing your car's clock, digging around in the glove compartment for a parking pass or reaching around to the back seat to open your kid's yogurt, you're guilty of distracted driving.

"The distracted driving section of the Highway Traffic act law only deals with handheld electronic devices," says OPP spokesman Sgt. Pierre Chamberland. "Anything else that takes your attention away from your primary task is potentially dangerous, like drinking coffee and spilling burning coffee on your lap, isn't addressed by that section, but it's a bad idea."

"Ontario's distracted driving law is aimed at combatting a particular form of driver distraction - the use of hand-held communication and entertainment devices and display screens," says Ontario's Ministry of Transportation. "Safe driving requires undivided attention. Drivers need to focus on the task at hand: keep your eyes on the road and hands on the wheel."

The Globe & Mail published an article stipulating what you can and cannot do behind the wheel. Heed this cheat sheet for a safe drive for yourself and those around you. 

What you can't do legally

Here's what you can't do while driving, including while stopped at a light, according to the MTO:

  • Use hand-held wireless communication devices like cell phones, iPhones or BlackBerrys
  • Text, dial or e-mail
  • Use hand-held electronic entertainment devices, like iPods or other portable MP3 players and GameBoys
  • View display screens unrelated to driving on devices like laptops, tablets and DVD players
  • Program a GPS device, other than by voice commands.

What you can do legally 

  • Use hands-free wireless communications devices with an earpiece, lapel button or Bluetooth device;
  • View the display screens of GPS units that are integrated into the vehicle or mounted on a dashboard and not obscuring the driver's view;
  • Use portable MP3 players hands-free, as long as they're secured in or mounted to the vehicle
  • Call 911

"We all need to use common sense: if it takes your attention off the road, don't do it while you're driving, even if it's not illegal," says Karen Bowman, founder of Drop It And Drive.

Our lawyers at Harris Law have the experience to get you the compensation you deserve; we’ll even conduct our own investigation to determine who is at fault. Contact us for a free, one-hour consultation.