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What is Considered Distracted Driving?

Beginning in January 2019, Ontario has brand new laws to protect drivers and pedestrians alike from distracted drivers. While the government put the new rule in place to protect people, they also carry severe punishments that can leave you with a steep fine or even loss of your driver's licence for a significant period of time. Here is a point by point breakdown of what counts as distracted driving in the new paradigm set for Ontario and some tips to keep yourself from violating these new laws.

Distracted Driving at a Glance

The new distracted driving laws have essentially tightened up existing laws such as a ban on cell phone usage and texting while behind the wheel. At the same time, the new law has added some definition as to what specifically counts as distracted driving and increased the penalties you will receive if you get caught violating the law. Distracted driving now includes the use of any electronic devices while behind the wheel of a vehicle. This includes cell phones, pagers, GPS units, and more. It also extends to non-electronic devices, such as food and drink. This means that getting a morning coffee to drink while driving to work is a thing of the past, as are many other traditional behind-the-wheel distractions.

What are the Four Types of Distracted Driving?

To understand the need to regulations on distracted driving, it is helpful to get a working knowledge of what causes distraction while behind the wheel. Broadly speaking, government regulations and driving researchers list a total of four different kinds of distracted driving. These include manual, visual, auditory, and cognitive. Below you can find a full breakdown of what each of these categories mean. As you read on, you should get a better understanding of how electronic devices and other distractions can create diversions in all four categories for a typical driver.

Manual Distractions

A manual distraction is anything that causes you to let go of the wheel to manipulate or control something. This can include things such as adjusting your radio dial or rolling down the window, but not law currently on the books prevents a driver from using controls that are built in as part of a vehicle. Usually, these controls require so little work from the driver that they do not provide a meaningful distraction. Electronic items, food, and drink, on the other hand, do contribute to significant manual distractions. Each of these requires you to take your hand off the wheel for a period of seconds, during which time you might miss a sharp turn or other road hazard that could be avoided with both hands on the wheel.

Visual Distractions

A driver needs to keep both eyes on the road at all times. This includes not only looking at oncoming traffic, but also checking rearview mirrors and blind spots. Since a car traveling at 90 kilometers per hour on the highway can move several hundred feet between the time it takes a driver to recognize an obstacle and then apply the brakes, every second counts when on the road. At most, a driver can afford to look away from the road for one second at a time and no more. Even the latest electronic devices require the users to look at the screen for several seconds and have the potential to distract for much longer if something interesting pops onto the screen. By reducing the usage of electronics on the road, the government hopes to cut down on these visual distractions.

Auditory Distractions

Of the four kinds of distracted driving, the new laws do the least to fix auditory distractions. The safest driving requires the use of your ears to hear car horns, sirens, and other potential warnings on the road. However, most vehicles have plenty of other potential auditory distractions, including the radio and GPS unit directions. What this law does do is set a limit on auditory distractions that occur while driving. Because you can't access electronic devices while driving, that means that you don't shuffle through different radio stations or GPS directions as much. The consistency provided as a result means less cerebral chaos, which potentially reduces the number of auditory distractions you might experience.

Cognitive Distractions

The biggest type of driving distraction that this new law deals with is cognitive distractions. This includes any distraction that reduces your concentration on the road. The human brain can only handle so many thoughts at one time, and driving takes more concentration than most mundane tasks. Using an electronic device to talk or text requires even more concentration than a normal conversation. That means that every second you spend using an electronic device behind the wheel decreases your ability to focus on road signs, lane changes, and other things that need direct attention. Even eating and drinking can become this kind of distraction, as the need to adjust lids, unscrew bottle caps, or unwrap food has a much greater effect on driving concentration than you might suspect.

How Can Distracted Driving be Prevented?

While the Ontario government is doing its best to limit distracted driving in Ontario in 2019, the real way to stop the problem is for drivers to take responsibility for their actions. This includes identifying what typically makes you less attentive behind the wheel and taking steps to fix that. Do you feel the need to glance at your phone repeatedly during a trip? Consider putting it out of your reach while driving, even placing it in the glove box if you need to do so. Are you unable to get going in the morning without your morning coffee? Find places along your morning route where you can pull off the road and take a drink as needed. By planning ahead, you can reduce potential damage to others and also decrease your chances of getting fined for distracted driving.

How to Minimize Phone Usage in the Car

While it sounds like an easy thing to simply turn a phone off in the car, modern life makes this more difficult than one might expect. The need to be constantly available for work and family responsibilities often leaves people feeling as though they have to be constantly accessible by phone. The best way to mitigate this problem is to use hands-free technology. The use of Bluetooth for your cell phone or GPS removes the manual and visual distractions caused by the use of electronic devices. Unfortunately, they do not significantly decrease the potential auditory or cognitive distractions. However, when it comes to the new laws passed, this method does the trick. No police officer can pull you over for talking on the phone if you don't have your hand on the device while driving.

How to Minimize Eating and Drinking in the Car

The ban on food and drink while driving is one of the most understated aspects of the new law. Many people enjoy their breakfast on the go or a coffee in the morning or afternoon while behind the wheel. To avoid getting pulled over for distracted driving due to food or drink, you might need to change your normal routines slightly. This could include waiting until you get to work before eating breakfast or simply getting up a little earlier so you can eat before getting behind the wheel. You can also pay attention to your route, noting potential places where you can pull off the road to eat or drink. If you find places to stop where you can get right back on the road quickly, you can enjoy your food and drink while still staying on schedule.

What are the New Penalties for Distracted Driving?

The penalties for a first time distracted driving offence in Ontario are not up to $1,000 in fines and a three-day suspension of your driver's licence. This can get as high as $3,000 in fines, six demerits on your driving record, and a 30-day suspension of your driver's licence if you reach a third offence. Because the penalties are potentially so high, you need to make sure that you protect yourself properly by remaining in compliance with the law at all times. If you do wind up getting pulled over and charged with distracted driving, you can rest assured that the penalties are not on the spot fines or suspensions. Instead, you have the opportunity to challenge the police officer's decision in a court of law. In these circumstances, reaching out to a distracted driving lawyer is your best option to select a wise strategy in court that can see these potentially severe penalties reversed or at least lessened.

With the new distracted driving laws taking effect in 2019, Ontario has made a strong statement about its devotion to cutting down on the use of electronic devices and other distractions while on the road. If you stay aware of the law, make sure that you are in compliance with it, and plan your routes so as to avoid the temptation of violating these new rules, you should be able to drive more safely in 2019 and beyond.