Ontario Highway Traffic Act gets updates that will affect all Motorists- June 2015

With the final unanimously passing of Bill 31, Transportation Statute Law Amendment Act on June 2nd, 2015. There are quite a few changes that will essentially affect all types of road users as well as increasing penalties for various infractions. It now only needs to be signed into law. This will certainly kick many drivers in the wallet and maybe some behaviours will change for the better.

Fines for distracted drivers will increase to between $300 to $1,000, plus three demerit points. Finally. Ontario is the last Province to impose demerit points. Heavier fines and demerit points, which can lead to heavier fines if caught again, along with license suspensions and eventually increased insurance rates are the only way to effect change in drivers; by hitting their wallet, but cops will need to actively enforce the rule and pull people over every time they see someone texting or talking on their phone (without a hands-free kit but don’t get me started on that). Police used to have the power to charge people for this even before the hands-free laws came out by charging people with “Careless Driving” but smartass lawyers argued you couldn’t prove it was careless despite all the studies and research from all over the world having proved that it’s dangerous.

Fines for opening a door into the path of a cyclist will increase to the same amounts as for distracted driving. It’s important to note that this rule as it worded means that any driver opening their door into anyone’s path could be charged…not just into a cyclists path. The wording isn’t going to change…just the fines.

HTA 165. No person shall,

(a) open the door of a motor vehicle on a highway without first taking due precautions to ensure that his or her act will not interfere with the movement of or endanger any other person or vehicle;

A new rule will be that motorists must leave a one-metre distance when passing bicycles (where practicable). Also new will be allowing Cyclists to use the paved shoulders on non-400 series provincial highways. The Minister of Transportation always had the power to do that (151. (1) The Minister may by regulation designate any part of the King’s Highway where the paved shoulder may be driven on). Although technically illegal before, unless otherwise posted, I don’t think a police officer would have actually charged cyclists for having done so.

If you’re a cyclist, you should note that for not having lamps, reflectors and reflective material (yes you need a combination of all three [HTA Section 17]), the fine has increased to between $60 and $500.

The bill also requires that drivers now wait until pedestrians completely cross the road at school crossings and at crosswalks with pedestrian-operated crossing lights; not just yield half the roadway which was required under the old law [HTA Section 140, Sub2(a)(b)]. Well that rule change may actually make things worse…waiting for a pedestrian to clear the entire roadway before a motorist can proceed. The primary goal of the HTA is to keep traffic flowing. This rule change will actually impede traffic flow a bit.

The larger concern is for motorcyclists and scooters who now have to sit in the middle of the road waiting for a pedestrian 30ft away to take those final few steps. This sets them up for a wicked hit from behind. Drivers have a hard enough time seeing bikers as it is without forcing them to sit stopped in the middle of the road unnecessarily.
Not enough drivers are going to know about this, so someone like me, on a bike, who tries to obey the laws will stupidly sit in the middle of street and hope I don’t get creamed from behind.
I’ll have to look up what the ticket is worth and then decide how to handle this one IF I’m on a motorcycle. I get why they made this change (to make it safer for pedestrians) but both the pedestrians and I would be safer if I ignored this law, which wasn’t thought through well enough.

For those of you who indulge in drugs and think that it’s ok to drive, you should note the fines for doing so will now match penalties as drivers impaired by alcohol and roadside suspensions of three to 90 days. Your vehicle could also be impounded for seven days and convicted offenders may to install an ignition interlock device to prevent them from driving while impaired in future. The cost of doing so is all on you and those things aren’t cheap, nor is the cost of installing them and later removing them. This is already a criminal offense though. Under the Criminal Code of Canada Section 253(1)(a), where it basically says you can’t be “impaired by alcohol or a drug”. If even a prescription drug affects your ability to drive, it’s a criminal offense.

The new updates also clarifies the mandatory and discretionary requirements by doctors to report unfit drivers. This will be a touchy area and quite often doctors don’t want to impose a medical suspension because they aren’t driving experts (and they know it) and they can’t be exactly sure of how badly their patients condition is affecting their ability to drive. Having read this new section, I can’t see it making much difference to how things are currently being done except to release a doctor from any liability in reporting someone, in good faith, that they deemed as unfit to to drive.

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