Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

'How many people have to die'?

Wife of crash victim seeks harsher penalties for texting

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Mark Derry died after a head-on crash on Dugald Road in 2011. The driver is accused of texting while behind the wheel.

PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS ARCHIVES Enlarge Image

Mark Derry died after a head-on crash on Dugald Road in 2011. The driver is accused of texting while behind the wheel. Photo Store

He was minding his own business when a pickup truck crashed head-on into his car on Dugald Road two years ago.

Firefighters had to cut the roof off his Dodge Neon sedan to get him out so paramedics could rush him to hospital. Mark Derry, 53, died a few days later at Health Sciences Centre.

In the aftermath of the crash, investigators retrieved the cellphone of the truck's driver -- a day later, a spokesman for the Winnipeg Police Service said traffic-collision investigators had information suggesting the driver was "texting at the time of the collision."

Derry's widow, Cheryl, wants to make sure her husband's death -- they would have been married 25 years this year -- wasn't in vain.

"I get so frustrated when I drive and see everybody on their phones," she said. "It drives me crazy. How many people have to die before people get the message?"

Derry said she wants to spread the word that nothing is as important as keeping your eyes on the road when driving.

'We're are such an instant-gratification society. Nobody wants to wait for anything. Nothing is important enough that it can't wait for you to pull over'

-- Cheryl Derry, whose husband Mark died after a collision Winnipeg police tied to texting

"We're are such an instant-gratification society," she said, referring to the need to answer a phone call or respond to a text when at the wheel of a vehicle. "Nobody wants to wait for anything. Nothing is important enough that it can't wait for you to pull over."

The collision that killed her husband happened when the eastbound pickup swerved into Derry's vehicle to avoid rear-ending traffic that was stopped because of construction, an action that took only seconds.

The driver was charged with criminal negligence causing death and will stand trial next year.

He is considered innocent and the allegations have not been proven in court.

Mark Derry was a long-distance truck driver who had recently been assigned a route that would allow him to be at home every day.

His widow said there needs to be more police enforcement and harsher fines.

"I think people have got really good at hiding when they do these things. I also think the penalties aren't harsh enough."

The current penalty is a $200 fine and a two-demerit levy on a driver's licence. The fine for not wearing a seatbelt is $300.

"For the average person, is the current fine high enough to stop them?" she asked.

Other provinces and U.S. states have various penalties.

For example, the fine in Alberta is $172 and in B.C., it's $167 plus three penalty points. Newfoundland and Labrador has among the highest penalties in Canada; fines ranging from $100 to $400 and four demerits.

In Connecticut, recent legislation sees a fine of US$150 for the first offence, $300 for the second offence and $500 for a third or subsequent offence.

In New Jersey, the maximum fine for a first offence is US$400 and the maximum fine for a third and subsequent offence is $800. Judges in that state can also suspend a driver's licence for 90 days for anyone convicted of a third or subsequent offence and impose three motor vehicle points against a driver. A licence is suspended when 12 or more points is accumulated.

Winnipeg police have said using a mobile device while driving continues to be a problem.

A recent bulletin issued by Canada's Traffic Injury Research Foundation (TIRF) said while distracted-driving deaths among young people have declined during the past decade, drivers 16 to 19 are still over-represented when compared with older drivers.

TIRF said texting while driving is particularly problematic for teen drivers in light of research showing they are more receptive to using new communication technologies.

"I know nothing is bringing Mark back," Derry said. "But it was just so preventable.

"We donated Mark's organs so we have some satisfaction out of knowing that his death was not a complete waste."

bruce.owen@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 15, 2013 0

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