Manitobans who are caught texting or speaking into a hand-held phone while driving will soon face stiffer penalties.

Motorists convicted of distracted driving will receive five demerits — the highest in Canada — instead of the current two.

That could mean a total penalty over five years of $542 for someone with a good driving record and as much as $3,200 in additional costs for someone with 10 to 15 demerits, Justice Minister Gord Mackintosh said Thursday. (The amounts include the $200 fine and additional licence and insurance costs for a driver of an average cost vehicle.)

A bill introduced in the legislature Thursday will also boost penalties for impaired driving.

First-time suspensions for drivers with a blood alcohol concentration of between .05 and .08 will be increased to 72 hours from the current 24 hours. If there is a person under 16 in the vehicle, the suspension will be seven days.

Meanwhile, all convicted impaired drivers will now be required to participate in Manitoba’s ignition interlock program. That would eliminate the option for impaired drivers to avoid participation by delaying licensing once a mandatory suspension had been served.

Mackintosh told a news conference the public is becoming "increasingly fed up" with folks who drive while distracted or impaired.

"They’re saying, ‘We need stronger measures and we need them now.’ "

Nearly as many Manitobans are now killed each year due to distracted driving (28) as due to impaired driving (29), Mackintosh said, calling the numbers "unacceptable."

"Manitobans are saying over and over again (that) they can’t stand it, they don’t like the increased risk, and today we’re taking action," he said, flanked by representatives of the RCMP, Winnipeg Police Service, Manitoba Public Insurance, CAA Manitoba and MADD (mothers against drunk driving) Canada.

The hike in demerits for distracted driving will take effect on July 1, while longer suspensions for blood alcohol concentrations of .05 to .08 and changes to the rules regarding ignition interlock devices will await proclamation of Bill 34 (The Safer Roads Act).

Currently, convicted impaired drivers are required to participate in the ignition interlock program as a condition of immediate licence reinstatement following mandatory driver’s licence suspension. However, some drivers choose to wait out the mandatory interlock enrolment period, which is one year for first-time offenders, by delaying licence reinstatement.

Ignition interlock devices are breathalyzer-like instruments that keep a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking. They also require random breath tests while driving. If the driver fails a random test, the incident is logged, an alarm is activated and the driver is prompted to provide another breath sample.

Police officials applauded the proposed new tougher measures against impaired and distracted driving on Thursday.

Staff Sgt. Andy Golebioski of the Winnipeg Police Service said there is still a "lingering culture" that distracted driving and driving while impaired is acceptable.

"It is a force to be reckoned with," he said. "We need to ensure that people separate those kinds of things from the driving task."

Mike Mager, president and CEO of CAA Manitoba, said talking on a hand-held phone or texting while driving should be regarded as socially unacceptable behaviour.

"We’re not there yet," he lamented.

In a recent survey, 90 per cent of CAA members said they regularly see motorists talking on their cellphone while driving.

Mager said the vast majority of his members support increased fines and penalties "to make this very ...unacceptable behaviour go away and make our roads safe."

Source: The Carillon

Last updated on: 2015-06-13 | Link to this post