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Distracted driving — FAQ

While Canadian drivers spend more time talking and texting behind the wheel, distracted driving has become the leading cause of automotive fatalities in several provinces, overtaking speeding and impaired driving.

Each province and territory except Nunavut has clamped down on distracted driving. Do you know the laws?

What counts as distracted driving? 

  • making phone calls;
  • reading and sending text messages or e-mail;
  • programming a GPS;
  • watching any entertainment device;
  • operating a portable MP3 player;
  • personal grooming, like putting on makeup, brushing your teeth or shaving;
  • reading or writing.

What vehicles are covered by these laws?

Most provinces ban distracted driving in any form of motor vehicle. Aside from typical automobiles, this includes motorcycles, snowmobiles, tractors and other farm equipment, basically any self-propelled vehicle.

Alberta’s distracted driving legislation even extends to bicycles.

I can still text at red lights or traffic’s not moving, right?

No. If you’re behind the wheel, you can only operate your devices when pulled over and parked.

Does eating behind the wheel count as distracted driving?

This is usually more of a discretionary area for police, depending on whether it’s affecting your ability to drive safely. Eating a cookie or an apple behind the wheel is not as distracting as trying to eat a bowl of cereal, for example. You could face a careless driving charge.

Can I use hands-free devices?

Yes. Any single-button or voice-activated devices are still legal to use in most cases.

Novice drivers in British Columbia, Saskatchewan, and Yukon are not permitted to use hands-free devices.

What are the penalties?

Every province and territory except Nunavut now has a distracted driving law on the books. Each law spells out fines and, in some cases, demerit points. In Saskatchewan, repeat offenders may have their cars impounded.

See: Distracted driving penalties by province

Are there any exceptions?

For most civilian drivers, the only time you can use a hand-held device would be in making a 911 call.

Emergency vehicles are exempted from these bans.  Some exemptions exist for users of CB or two-way radios, but they vary according to the jurisdiction.