Major Changes to the Quebec Highway Safety Code
Bill 165, An Act to amend the Highway Safety Codeand other provisions, was adopted unanimously by the Quebec National Assembly on April 18, 2018. The bill follows broad consultation around road safety and amends the Highway Safety Code (“HSC”) principally with respect to young drivers, use of mobile devices, repeat impaired driving offenders, and winter tires.
Curfews for Young Drivers
The HSC will prohibit holders of class 5 (automobile) or 6a (motorcycle) learner’s licences from driving between midnight and 5:00 am. Class 5 probationary licence holders aged 19 and under would also be limited with respect to passengers between midnight and 5:00 am: one passenger aged 19 or under only for the first six months, a maximum of three passengers aged 19 or under for the following six months and no restrictions following. These limits mirror provisions applicable in Ontario, but would exclude members of the driver’s immediate family.
Penalties in case of non-compliance include a fine ranging from $200 to $300 and 4 demerit points, which would result in revocation for a class 5 probationary licence holder.
These provisions will come into force on May 18, 2018.
Higher Fines and First-Ever Roadside Suspensions for Use of Handheld Devices
With respect to mobile devices, Bill 165 repeals current HSC provisions and puts in place an entirely new legislative scheme under the rubric “Distractions While Driving.”
First, the new changes clarify the scope of the prohibition of using mobile, easing current restrictions on the use of GPS applications and providing that use of a hand-held device need not be proven where the device is held in any way, thus partially clearing up a controversy in Quebec case law.
Second, bill 165 more than triples existing fines for drivers convicted for illegal use of hand-held devices and the number of demerit points increases from 4 to 5.
Third, and most significantly, the HSC will for the first time allow for immediate roadside licence suspensions where an officer believes a driver has used a mobile device while driving, if that driver was convicted in respect of the same offence within the last two years. This immediate suspension will be for three, seven or 30 days, depending on whether the driver has been convicted once, twice, or more than twice during the two-year period preceding the alleged violation. Only in the case of a 30-day suspension would a driver be permitted to establish before the Court of Quebec (civil division) that (s)he did not commit the offence, and thus obtain the revocation of the suspension while awaiting trial for the charged offence. These provisions allowing for pre-trial suspensions for cellphone use would be the first of their kind in North America.
The above provisions around mobile devices come into force on June 30, 2018.
Increased Administrative Consequences for Impaired Driving
Bill 165 significantly increases the administrative impact of impaired driving convictions under the Criminal Code. Going forward, impaired driving offenders who have been convicted of a similar offence within the past ten years will be permanently required to use an ignition interlock device. It will be possible to petition to have this restriction lifted after ten years. These amendments will come into force following a government decree to that effect.
Finally, the HSC will now mandate winter tires on all vehicles except heavy vehicles, tool vehicles or agricultural vehicles – the current rule applies only in respect of “passenger vehicles.” The period during which winter tires are required will be from December 1st to March 15th, moving up by two weeks the current deadline of December 15th. This change will come into force on December 1st, 2019, leaving current rules in place for the 2018-2019 winter.