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Province aims to curb distracted driving with harsher penalties

Sept. 2, 2014
By Jay Gutterridge

York Region residents are largely in favour of sweeping new proposals to distracted driving laws, according to an informal poll.

A survey found a majority are in favour of the alterations to be introduced by Vaughan MPP and Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca after Oct. 20.

According to the proposal, drivers will be fined up to $1,000 and three demerit points, which would make them the toughest penalties in the country.

The bill would raise current fines from $60 to $500 and no points to between $300 and $1,000 and three points.

Between 2002 and 2011, Ontario's Transport Ministry has witnessed a 39-per-cent increase in deaths resulting from distracted driving and a 26-per-cent increase in injuries.

Meanwhile, 2014 has seen 31 people die in collisions that were the result of distracted driving, the OPP stated.

In 2013, distracted driving contributed to deaths of 78 people, compared to 57 for impaired driving and 44 for speeding, the force added.

Those polled said they were getting increasingly irked by drivers texting and talking on their cellphones, causing them to weave in and out of lanes, make foolish mistakes and, most of all, fail to begin driving when lights change.

"I think the changes are good, people shouldn't be talking on the phone or texting while driving. These changes sends that message," Woodbridge's Loretta Monte said. "I think the law should allow talking on the phone through the car's audio system, lots of new cars have that. I don't think there's much of a difference between that and singing a song while in the car. As long as your hands are not in use, we're adults, we can multitask."

Bluetooth or hands-free calls would be allowed under the new legislation, Del Duca confirmed.

The only person polled about the new law to disagree with any part of it was Sheila Margel, who said she thought the fines were too stiff for first-time offenders.

"I think it's a bit too much for people who may have just made a mistake," she said. "I believe $300 would be fine for a first time offence, going up to $1,000 for a second."

Meanwhile, Hilmar Rosenbohm said he would like to raise the fines even higher, saying there is no excuse for the behaviour.

"It should be more. You're putting people's lives in jeopardy," he said.

York Regional Police's traffic team are also enthused by the changes, which Staff Sgt. Dave Mitchell said would bring about awareness about the issue and show motorists that the authorities will not stand for the behaviour any longer.

"This brings it to the forefront, because it's such a safety issue," he said. "The message here is, just put the device down, there's already enough on your plate.

"These aren't bad people, but what they need to be aware of is there's a split second that can mean the difference between life and death."

The proposal was originally attempted by the Kathleen Wynne government before the June 12 election.