Police are warning drivers about new harsher distracted driving laws coming into affect next year.

OPP Staff Sargent Chris Watkins says 5,619 distracted driving-related crashes, leaving 31 dead and thousands injured have been reported so far in 2018.Watkins added over the past decade over 700 deaths have been caused by distracted driving on OPP-patrolled roads.

As of January 2019, new legislation will be put in place to hit distracted drivers with harsher penalties. Simply holding an electronic device can result in fines up to $1,000, three demerit points and a three-day drivers license suspension for a first offence. It goes up to $2,000 and a seven-day suspension for a second offence and $3,000 with a 30-day suspension for a third and any further convictions. Six demerit points will be given for multiple offences.

The penalties are harsher for novice drivers. Watkins says they will have the same fines, but if they’re charged with distracted driving, they will face a 30-day administrative drivers license suspension, a 90-day suspension for a second offence and their license will be revoked after a third conviction.

Only a judge can order a licence suspension or removal after the driver is found guilty.

“I think changes to the legislation will improve our ability to respond to what is a pervasive problem,” Watkins says.

With files from Mathew Reisler.