What is Distracted Driving?

Distracted driving is fast becoming an important topic for auto safety, personal injury law and everyone that gets behind the wheel of a car. With this topic dominating the headlines and the increasing rise in fatalities, it’s important to define what actually constitutes distracted driving, as well as what the law says about it – because the consequences of distracted driving are real.

One study found that “text messaging while driving creates a crash risk 23 times higher than driving while not distracted.” Every year there are thousands of deaths associated with distracted driving. Hundreds of thousands of people are injured each year as a result of collisions involving distracted drivers. 

Let’s Detail What Distracted Driving Is

Despite the importance of this issue, there exists no unifying definition of ‘distracted driving’. A major challenge for courts around the world has been defining what actually constitutes being ‘distracted’. 

CAA National suggests that distracted driving is simply that which “takes your eyes, and mind, off the road.”

“Distraction occurs any time you take your eyes off the road, your hands off the wheel and your mind off your primary task: driving safely,” adds, adding “any non-driving activity you engage while driving increases your risk of crashing.”

What Behaviours Constitute Distracted Driving?

While no single definition exists, there are some behaviours clearly spelled out to watch for. has a list of some of these actions, including:

  • Using your phone to talk or text, 
  • Checking maps,
  • Changing music,
  • Eating,
  • Reading, 
  • Typing a destination into a GPS,

Other examples include: 

  • Applying makeup, 
  • Drinking coffee, 
  • Talking to passengers, 
  • Watching videos 
  • Reaching for something that’s fallen on the floor of the vehicle.

It does not matter if you’re stopped at a red light, if you’re behind the wheel, you’re considered by law to be driving.

Ontario Laws for Distracted Driving 

It is illegal under Ontario law to talk, text, type, dial and/or email using cell phones or other hand-held communications/entertainment devices. It is also illegal to view laptops, DVD players and display screens unrelated to driving. Hands-free use of these devices is permitted.

There are legally 3 types of distractions to know about:

  1. Manual: Taking your hands off the wheel
  2. Visual: Taking your eyes off the road
  3. Cognitive: Taking your mind off driving

Penalties for Distracted Driving

According to the Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC), penalties often range from $490 – $1,000 and 3 demerit points in Ontario. Other provinces are stricter, including Prince Edward Island which has penalties ranging from $500 – $1,200 and 5 demerit points. If you’re planning a summer road trip to another province, be sure to get informed about distracted driving penalties that may apply to you. 

Specific penalties vary depending on license class. For more details on these penalties, please visit

It is important to note that distracted driving can be used to support charges such as careless driving and dangerous driving. Dangerous driving, for example, is a criminal offence and can involve sentences of up to 10 years for bodily harm and up to 14 years for death.

Avoiding Distracted Driving

There are a number of ways to prevent distracted driving and ensure road safety. Switching your phone to airplane mode, or just turning it off altogether, before you get in the car can help. Answering your texts or phone calls prior to entering the vehicle can reduce the temptation to check your cell. If the urge to check your messages is too strong, the glove compartment or back seat is a good place to store it.

If you’re travelling with a passenger, consider asking them to be your “designated texter” answering your phone or text on your behalf. Record a special voicemail message to let callers or texters know you’re driving and will respond when you’re off the road.

For those with kids, teaching them about road safety and distracted driving, establishing ground rules and setting a good example are key. A family pledge is an option as well.

In the case of an emergency, you can use your phone to call 911, but it recommended to pull off the road before making the call.

Why This Matters

The seriousness of this issue has prompted IBC to refer to driving while distracted (DWD) as the new DUI. 

Distracted drivers miss up to 50% of the information available to drivers. That kills. One study showed roughly 80% of collisions and 65% of near-collisions involve some form of driver distraction up to three seconds prior to impact.

Ontario data shows one person is injured in a distracted-driving collision every half hour and distracted driving deaths have doubled since 2000.

Despite this, nearly 3 out of 4 Canadians admit to having driven while distracted. According to Public Health Ontario, 90% of Ontarians aged 16 – 24 are aware of Ontario’s law banning texting while driving yet 55% reported reading texts and 44% reported sending texts while driving. Among this age group, 57% think that sending a text while driving is an “extremely dangerous behavior” though only 31% think reading one is.

With increasingly harsh punishments from provinces, and clear risk to life and limb, it’s important to seek proper legal counsel if you’re involved in a distracted driving incident. 

Our lawyers at Harris Law can help you to navigate Ontario’s distracted driving laws and get any compensation you are owed; we’ll even conduct our own investigation to determine who is at fault. Contact us for a free, one-hour consultation.

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