Steering Clear of Traffic Tickets in Ontario

By Dave Webb
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There are some evergreen traffic laws. Stop at red lights, stay to the right where possible, don’t speed and never drive impaired.

But with changing legal norms, technology, and social mores, traffic laws are subject to change. In 2015, the province passed the Making Ontario’s Roads Safer Act, which overhauled the Ontario Highway Traffic Act to take into account mobile technology and increased awareness of the safety of cyclists, among other things.

Nationwide legalization of cannabis in 2018 added another wrinkle. While it has long been illegal to drive while under the influence of drugs, the more widespread use of legal cannabis poses an enforcement issue. As of 2019, police officers in Ontario are allowed to demand a breathalyzer or saliva test from any driver, whether or not they suspect that driver is under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Any driver who refuses to take the tests may be fined $550.

And in 2019, roadway rules were tweaked again in response to the dynamic of the driving world. Since ignorance of the law is no excuse — and in these cases, can incur substantial fines, demerit points and long-term impact on your insurability and car insurance rates as a driver — it behooves us to take a look at some of these infractions and understand what the penalties are:

Distracted Driving

The 2015 Act firmed up Ontario’s distracted driving laws. Do not dial, speak into, text or in any way interact with a handheld device while driving. You can also be a distracted driver while using a hands-free device. As well, anything else that takes your eyes and mind off the road can be considered a distraction: applying makeup, eating food, reading a newspaper, brushing snow off of your windshield while driving, etc. (Don’t laugh. These things actually happen.)

Tweaks to the law in 2019 amped up the punishments for distracted driving:

  • A fine of $615 if settled out of court, three demerit points, and a three-day licence suspension for a first conviction. The fine jumps to $1,000 if you fight the ticket in court and lose.
  • A fine of $615 if settled out of court, six demerit points, and a seven-day suspension for a second conviction. The fine increases to $2,000 if you fight the ticket in court and lose.
  • A fine of $615 if settled out of court, six demerit points, and a 30-day suspension for a third conviction. The fine goes up to $3,000 if you fight the ticket in court and lose.

Novice drivers with G1 and G2 licences face the same fines and no demerit points, but the suspensions are longer:

  • A 30-day suspension for a first conviction.
  • A 90-day suspension for a second conviction.
  • A third conviction will see your licence cancelled and you are removed from the Graduated Licensing System.

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Speeding

One of the most common traffic violations is speeding. A speeding conviction stays on your record for up to three years, and it can affect your premium. In Ontario, the fines for speeding are calculated based on how fast you were driving over the limit:

  • One to 19 km/h over the limit will cost $2.50/km
  • 20 to 29 km/h over the limit will cost $3.75/km
  • 30 to 49 km/h over the limit will cost $6/km

If you’re caught driving 50 km/h or more over the limit, you can be charged with stunt driving or careless driving, and your vehicle will be impounded for seven days. If you’re convicted of stunt driving, you could be looking at a fine of $2,000 to $10,000, six demerit points, a two-year licence suspension and possibly six months in jail. A careless driving conviction may result in fines as high as $2,000, six demerit points, and the possibility of spending six months in jail.

Aftermarket Accessories

Although aftermarket parts may be legal to sell, they might not be legal to use in Ontario.

For example, vehicles manufactured after January 1, 2017, cannot have aftermarket tinted windshields. Tinting is limited to 30% on side windows; the windshield must be clear of any impediment to visibility, including stickers, spray-on colouring, and reflective coating.

So if your aftermarket muffler is too loud, or your exhaust system is such a train wreck that it roars, you can be ticketed and fined.

Trailers and Hitches

Trailers are considered separate vehicles; the must be registered and plated, and drivers should be able to produce the vehicle permit at all times. Lights or reflector must demonstrate the clearance of the trailer to other drivers, both front and back. In addition, the trailer must be attached to the towing vehicle by two mechanisms, in case one fails.

Coming to a Full Stop

Vehicles must come to a full stop at a stop sign, not a rolling stop. (Vehicles, in this case, include bicycles.) What’s a full stop? The tires must be motionless for a period; three seconds is a good rule of thumb.

When approaching an intersection with traffic lights, if it is possible to stop safely at a yellow traffic light, you must. Ignore the old saw that says, “Green means go, yellow means go faster.” An all-way flashing yellow light means proceed with caution; an all-way flashing red is the same as a stop sign. Any of these directives is overruled by police directing traffic.

Running a red light can result in a fine of up to $250, or $400 if you’re in a community safety zone, as well as three demerit points and a $60 victim surcharge fee. Failing to stop at a stop sign may result in a fine of $85 and three demerit points.

Carefully Passing Emergency Vehicles

Since 2003, drivers are required to slow down and move over for police and other first responders when stopped at the side of the road with their flashers on. That law also applies to tow trucks. Failing to do so may net you a fine of $490, plus three demerit points.

Waiting for Pedestrians

At school crossings and crosswalks, drivers and cyclists are expected to wait for pedestrians to safely arrive on the other side of the street before proceeding. Impatience could be costly. The fine for failing to yield at pedestrian crosswalks and school crossings is up to $1,000 and four demerit points. The fine is doubled if the incident occurs in a community safety zone.

Moreover, failing to stop for a school bus that has its red lights flashing costs up to $2,000 and six demerit points for a first conviction, and up to $4,000 for any subsequent conviction. You could also end up in jail for six months.

Sharing the Road with Cyclists

The Making Ontario’s Roads Safer Act codified the responsibilities of drivers in terms of sharing the road with cyclists.

Autos are to pass cyclists with at least one metre of space, and slowly — violators are subject to a $60 to $500 fine and two demerit points. “Dooring” a cyclist — opening a door when a cyclist is travelling on the right and causing a collision — gets you a minimum $365 fine and three demerit points.

Bicycles Are Vehicles Too

Speaking of cyclists, they’re required to abide by the rules of the road as well.

Stop at stop signs and red traffic lights. Signal your turns. Wear a helmet (required if you’re under 18). Have appropriate lighting and reflectors (battery life is longer with flashing LED lights) – a cyclist with improper lighting may be fined $110. Have a bell or horn to alert drivers and pedestrians to your presence and approach. Stay off sidewalks unless your wheels are smaller than 20 inches. When in doubt, think like a driver.

Being ticketed for offences like these can have a long-term impact on your wallet, including fines and increased car insurance premiums. These violations can easily be avoided. Give other drivers the space they need, don’t drive distracted or impaired, and watch out for cyclists.