Distracted Driving in Ontario: What Counts Under the Law?


By Written on behalf of Campbell Bader LLP

A man in the United States recently successfully contested a distracted driving ticket he received by arguing that he was not holding a phone while driving; he was holding…a McDonald’s hash brown. He had been given a $300 citation for distracted driving.

What Happened?

On the morning of April 11, 2018, the driver was pulled over by a police officer who claimed to have seen the driver using his cell phone while driving.

The driver lost his first court case while representing himself. He then hired a lawyer, which cost more money that the ticket was worth, to prove his innocence in court, saying it was a matter of principle. In addition, distracted driving offences remain on your record and auto insurance rates can increase.

At trial, the police officer stated that he had clearly seen the driver speak into a black cell phone while driving. He said he saw the driver holding an illuminated object the size of a cell phone up to his face while moving his lips.

The driver’s lawyer argued that the driver’s lip movement was, in fact, consistent with chewing the hash browns he had ordered at McDonald’s right before the incident. Phone records were presented that showed the driver was not having a conversation at the time he was pulled over. Additionally, the lawyer argued that the driver’s car had Bluetooth capabilities allowing him to talk without holding a phone. Finally, evidence was presented that showed the police officer was on the 15thhour of a 16-hour double shift, which may have contributed to his mistaking a hash brown for a cell phone.

Ultimately, the judge concluded that the state was unable to meet its burden of proof, citing a lack of evidence that showed the driver was actually on his phone at the time he was pulled over. The driver won his case.

Ontario Distracted Driving Laws

In Ontario, while you are driving, including when you are stopped in traffic or at a red light, it is illegal to:

  • use a phone or other hand-held wireless communication device to text or dial – you can only touch a device to call 911 in an emergency
  • use a hand-held electronic entertainment device, such as a tablet or portable gaming console
  • view display screens unrelated to driving, such as watching a video
  • program a GPS device, except by voice commands.

Drivers are allowed to use hands-free wireless communications devices with an earpiece, lapel button or Bluetooth. GPS display screens can be viewed as long as they are built into the vehicle’s dashboard or securely mounted on the dashboard.

Other actions such as eating, drinking, grooming, smoking, reading and reaching for objects are not part of Ontario’s distracted driving law. However, the driver engaging in such activities can still be charged with careless or dangerous driving.

Drivers who are caught talking on their phones, texting, dialing or emailing using a hand-held device, such as a cell phone and other entertainment devices, will be fined up to $1,000 with a three-day licence suspension and three demerit points.

Drivers with more than one distracted driving conviction will face a fine of up to $2,000, a seven-day licence suspension and six demerit points, while motorists who have been caught driving distracted more than two times will pay a fine of up to $3,000 and lose their license for 30 days.

Get Advice

Being criminally convicted can have a significant impact on your life, leading to a permanent record, significant fines, and/or jail time. This can seriously impact your reputation, your employment opportunities, and even your ability to travel outside of Canada. If you have been charged with a criminal offence, it is imperative to consult with a knowledgeable criminal defence lawyer as soon as possible to learn about your options and to protect yourself.

At Campbell Bader LLP, we can help. Our team of exceptional Mississauga criminal defence lawyers has been representing clients charged with criminal offences since 1999. We are highly skilled litigators and have conducted trials in the Superior Court and Ontario Court of Justice. We have the knowledge, experience, and skill-set to effectively defend clients charged with even the most serious of offences. We will listen, consider, and provide you with practical options. 

If you have been charged with a driving-related offence, including “over 80”, impaired driving, or refusal to provide a breath or blood sample, contact the team of criminal defence lawyers at Campbell Bader LLPin Mississauga. We have experience defending clients against all types of drunk driving and impaired driving due to drugs charges. We have successfully defended clients against even the most serious charges and acquittal is always our goal. Contact us online or at 905-828-2247 to learn how we can help.


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