In Ontario, distracted driving laws have been in place for many years to help keep drivers focused on the road and reduce the number of accidents caused by drivers not paying attention while behind the wheel. Currently, distracted driving laws apply mostly to cell phone texting and phone calls, but in the new year distracted driving laws will change to include a much broader definition of distracted driving and the consequences of being caught will also increase. Here’s an overview of what’s coming your way in the new year.

How is distracted driving defined?

Currently, this law applies to drivers using a cell phone for either phone calls or texting while driving a vehicle. As of January 1, 2019, this law will be updated to include a broader spectrum of activities while behind the wheel such as simply holding an electronic device in your hand (of any kind), checking maps, switching playlists, reading books, typing an address into GPS or even eating.

These activities are not limited to only when you’re driving the car. If you’re doing these things while stopped at a red light, you could also be pulled over for distracted driving. While there will remain a few grey areas, the government defines distracted driving as any activity that causes a driver to be less focused on the road. This definition may be subjective as some cars have hands free devices but talking on the phone and trying to drive may cause some drivers to lose focus. There will be some room for judgment calls with this law.

What will happen if I get pulled over for distracted driving?

If a police officer pulls you over for distracted driving, the consequence will depend on a number of factors. This law will have tiered fines so that the repercussions are more severe the more times you are fined for this. This first time you’re penalized, you can expect a $1,000 fine and a license suspension for 3 days; the second time will include a $2,000 fine and a 7 day suspension; the third time the penalty is increased to $3,000 plus a 30 day license suspension and 6 demerit points on your record.

Police will not be able to suspend your license right there on the road, though. They will have to get approval from a judge in order for the suspension to go into effect. You will have to go through a court for the conviction to happen. Once you’re found guilty, or plead guilty, you will lose your license for the appropriate amount of time.

Previously some police officers have let drivers off with a warning for the first time they’re pulled over, but the OPP says they aren’t going to give warnings anymore. If you’re pulled over for distracted driving, the police are going to hand out fines no matter whether you’ve been told before. The police feel that warnings were put in place for when the law was first coming into effect, but since this law has been enforced for a number of years, there isn’t a need for any driver to be distracted.

Come January 1, make sure you are completely focused on the road and leave the phone conversations for when you get to your destination.