Bill 174 is an omnibus legislation enacting the Cannabis Act, 2017, the Ontario Cannabis Retail Corporation Act, 2017 and the Smoke-Free Ontario Act, 2017 (repealing the Smoke-Free Ontario Act and the Electronic Cigarettes Act, 2015), and making amendments to the Highway Traffic Act.
Bill 174 serves as the provincial framework in anticipation of the enactment of federal legislation relating to cannabis' cultivation, sale, distribution and consumption. Introduced by the majority Liberal government at the time, it received royal assent on December 12, 2017.
While the Highway Traffic Act is amended to reflect the requirements to control the smoking and driving under the influence of drugs including cannabis, it also adds very heavy penalties for distracted driving – something not directly related to cannabis smoking. The “distracted driving” amendments will become effective January 1, 2019.
For distracted driving, first time offenders will pay up to a maximum of $1000. Second time offenders will be penalized for up to $2000. After that, subsequent offenses will bring penalties of $3000 and 6 demerit points. In addition to fines, driver's license can be suspended. First time offenders will be suspended for 3 days. Second time offenders will be suspended for 7 days. Offenders with 3 or more offends will have their licences suspended for 30 days.
Police officers cannot perform a road side suspension for distracted driving. Suspensions can only be imposed after a judge hands down a court decision. When it is compared to the current penalties which is $490 and 3 demerit points, it is simply a cash gouging scheme.
Even more disturbing is the definition of distracted driving. This is what we can find at the government's web sites:
如果开车不把注意力放在路上，出事时你就会措手不及。开车时用手机打电话，发短信，查地图或挑选音乐都会被视为分心驾驶 - 他们会让您和其他人处于危险之中。开车时吃东西，阅读或在GPS中输入信息等也很危险。无论你是在高速公路上还是在红灯处停下来做这些事都属于分心驾驶，这会让你付出代价。
When you aren’t focused on the road, things can happen fast. Using your phone to talk, text, check maps or choose a playlist while you’re behind the wheel all count as distracted driving – and they put you and others at risk. Other activities like eating, reading or typing a destination into a GPS are also dangerous when you’re behind the wheel. It doesn’t matter if you’re on a highway or stopped at a red light – distracted driving could cost you.
Let us look at Ontario's distracted driving statistics. Deaths from collisions caused by distracted driving have doubled since 2000. Ontario data on collisions from 2013 show that one person is injured in a distracted-driving collision every half hour. It also show that a driver using a phone is four times more likely to crash than a driver focusing on the road.
So what are some of the tips to avoid distracted driving and its penalties?
1)Turn off your phone or switch it to silent mode before you get in the car.
2)Ask a passenger to take a call or respond to a text for you.
3)If you must respond, or have to make a call or send a text, carefully pull over to a safe area.
4)Silence notifications that tempt you to check your phone.
5)In an emergency, you can use your phone to call 911, but be sure to pull off the road to a safe area to make the call.
Ontario's distracted driving rules don't actually contain the word distraction. They are contained under section 78 (“Display screen visible to driver prohibited”) and 78.1 (Handheld devices prohibited) of the Highway Traffic Act. According to the Ministry of Transportation Ontario (MTO), these activities are what you cannot do while driving, including while stopped at a light:
1)Use hand-held wireless communicating devices (cell phones).
2)Text, dial, or email.
3)Use hand-held electronic entertainment devices, like iPods or other MP3 players and GameBoys.
4)View display screens unrelated to driving on devices like laptops, tablets, and DVD players.
5)Program a GPS devices, other than by voice commands.
In fact, simply holding a hand-held phone or other hand-held devices while driving is against the law. The key word here is “hand-held” so the CD player that comes mounted on the car's dash board for playing musical CD's is not included!
Fiddling with complicated radio or climate controls could be a distraction, but it's not banned by Ontario's law. We all need to use common sense. If it takes your attention off the road, don't do it while you are driving, even if it's not illegal.
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