Are Ontario's new distracted driving penalties changing dangerous behaviours?

Are Ontario's new distracted driving penalties changing dangerous behaviours? | Insurance Business

Are Ontario

Even after new laws aimed at distracted driving came into effect in Ontario in January 2019, the issue has continued to plague Ontarians.

The Financial Services Commission of Ontario (FSCO) recently pointed to distracted driving as one of the factors contributing to the ongoing rise in auto insurance rates in Canada, while in a survey released in May, the Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC) found that 75% of Canadian drivers are distracted at the wheel.

Nonetheless, drivers have taken note of the new fines and penalties for distracted driving, said one expert.

“People are aware of the changes that have come into effect,” said Elliott Silverstein, manager of government relations for CAA South Central Ontario (CAA SCO). He highlighted a study that CAA SCO released at the start of the year that determined 91% of Ontarians believe distracted driving has been growing and worsening over time.

“We can all agree that distracted driving is a constant issue on our roads across the province every day, all time of day – there is little dispute on that issue. I think where the challenge comes is people who define themselves as being distracted and admitting that they’re potentially causing issues on the road, versus believing that it is somebody else.”

Notably in CAA SCO’s study, 45% of participants said that they often see others holding a mobile phone while driving. However, only 3% of respondents admitted to using their phones while behind the wheel.

Read more: Survey: Ontarians not grasping the meaning of distracted driving

“There’s a disconnect between what is actually considered distracted driving in the Highway Traffic Act, and what people may believe they can and should be able to do in a vehicle,” said Silverstein. For example, many people believe that they can use their phones at red lights or when they’re stuck in traffic.

“Those are particular incidents where if law enforcement were to catch you, then you would get a ticket, and you would be subject to the fines and penalties, even though some may believe that they have every right to do so. I think that’s part of the disconnect, and we have to try and change that behaviour, that if you’re operating a vehicle in any sort of way, you cannot be using your phone, unless it’s an absolute emergency.”

Meanwhile, among those who drive for longer periods of time (90 minutes or more), 58% admitted that they would drive distracted. At the same time, of those who drive a highway daily, 54% of participants in the CAA SCO survey said they would drive distracted.

Read more: IBC partners with regional police force to roll out youth road safety campaign

“This is where, as the CAA, we try to have the constant reminder that everybody has only one responsibility when they’re on the road and that is getting to and from [destinations] safely, and keeping everyone safe,” said Silverstein.

Brokers can contribute to the cause by underscoring the impact of fines and penalties on their clients’ auto insurance rates. After all, consumers would prefer to save money on their premiums, so this message could really resonate.

“When somebody has a situation where they are tempted to use their phone, I think they need to realize what the potential risks are going to be on their insurance. While some may say, ‘I’m willing to take that risk,’ that’s their own choice, but [they] may not realize that if you get convicted of a distracted driving charge now, you get a three-day suspension, you get demerit points, and you get a $1,000 fine,” explained Silverstein.

“Those demerit points are going to carry with you, and I think that’s where brokers can help us relay the impact of what those points mean, especially if you start racking up multiple convictions on this, because it’s three demerit points on the first incident, six on the second, and six on the third. If you have more than one distracted driving conviction, you’re going to be in a very tough situation when it comes to paying for insurance.”