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Drivers using a phone four times more likely to crash: Haté

The tough new penalties that recently came into effect for distracted driving are a positive development, Toronto personal injury lawyer Rohan Haté tells AdvocateDaily.com.

"The province increased the penalties, and I think that's a good thing because in my practice I see many accidents are caused by distracted driving," says Haté, a partner with McPhadden Samac Tuovi Haté LLP.

"It's a huge problem, especially on the highway because you're travelling at such high speeds. You take your eyes off the road for even a second, to change a song, to pick up something to eat — an accident could happen in that split second," he says.

The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) notes 3,450 people were killed in distracted-related collisions in 2016. The OPP reported 83 people were killed by distracted-related collisions on the roads it patrols in 2017, and between 2009 and 2017, 692 people were killed.

The new law could include other behaviours beyond handling a cellphone as distracted driving, such as eating, changing the dial on the radio, reading or typing a destination into a GPS device. Handling a phone, whether the motorist is moving or stopped at a red light, is against the law.

The law now only allows the use of a hands-free device such as Bluetooth-connected phone — but just to turn it on and off — and a securely mounted device, such as a phone or a GPS.

The province says one person is injured in a distracted-related accident every 30 minutes on Ontario roadways.

"Drivers using a phone are four times more likely to crash, according to statistics," Haté says. "The stiffer penalties hopefully will deter people from using their phones while driving. But it's not just using phones; it's also checking maps, changing song playlists, eating, or reading a document.

"I didn't see smoking on the list, but even that could cause an accident when someone is trying to light a cigarette, or it drops inside the vehicle," he says. "Or they're eating, and they take their eyes off the road for one second and the next thing you know, they’ve rear-ended someone."

Haté hopes, with time, the new penalties will cause a change in driving behaviour, and the number of distracted driving collisions will drop.

"I think the key will be enforcement by the police and the OPP on the highways," he says.

Penalties have increased to a three-day suspension, three demerit points and up to $1,000 in fines for the first conviction. The second conviction can mean fines of up to $2,000, six demerit points and a seven-day suspension.

Penalties for a third conviction or more have fines of up to $3,000, six demerit points and a 30-day suspension.

"These things come out at discovery," Haté says. "People should be held accountable for those things because they have significant consequences and cause a ripple effect to the people who are hit."

Depending on the facts of a case, he says the onus will certainly be on the distracted driver.

"Good luck getting insured if you have three or more distracted driving convictions," Haté says. "You may get insurance, but you're going to pay a very high premium for it."

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