If you bike to work on any given weekday morning in a large Ontario city, chances are you’ll find something to celebrate in the provincial government’s decisions about how to deal with distracted driving.
Tuesday’s announced changes to the laws of the land are part of an amendment to the Highway Traffic Act, slated to become law this fall. They will turn up the heat on distracted driving. Propelled into force through provincial Bill 31, the changes received unanimous support in Ontario’s legislature, introducing fines as high as $1,000 and three demerit points for offenders. As the Toronto Star reports, though, it’s not enough to simply make the bill’s varying penalties a matter for enforcement. For them to truly be effective, a long, illuminating campaign of public education needs to take place as well—particularly on the subject of distracted driving, something as bad as driving while intoxicated under the bill’s language.
“People have to be constantly reminded that it is crucial to keep their eyes on the road,” said transportation minister Steven Del Duca, informing reporters about the law’s new weight. What is needed, he told the Star, is a sea-change in public knowledge that transforms perception among many Ontario motorists. Driving, Del Luca says, requires full attention—and that’s often missing in too many cases.
It’s a change supported by the Ontario Provincial Police, to name just one organization. “The OPP fully supports this new legislation,” Commissioner Vince Hawkes also told the Star, “and recognizes it as an important enhanced deterrent aimed at changing unsafe driver behaviour and reducing the distracted driving-related fatalities.” Underscoring his point with a few disturbing statistics, Hawkes made note of the 505 casualties that resulted from distracted driving since earlier laws, all based on penalizing distracted driving itself, also came into force. “We have seen a disturbing trend with these needless deaths on the rise,” Hawkes added. “They are totally preventable.”
Among the bill’s amendments that include increasing distracted driving fines to as much as $1,000 per offence, certain measures of the province’s initiative will likely resonate for cyclists more than others. Fines for “dooring” cyclists, long decried as an offense with disproportionate penalties, will also be dramatically increased. Meanwhile, the law throws its weight behind requiring that drivers maintain a minimum distance of one metre while passing cyclists. On unrestricted provincial highways, cyclists will also be allowed to use the paved shoulder while riding.
According to reports from the transportation ministry, the new bouquet of measures will come into force during the months to come.