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The high cost of distracted driving

Ont. increases penalties, Manitoba may follow

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Manitoba is considering upping penalties for distracted drivers.

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Manitoba is considering upping penalties for distracted drivers. Photo Store

Manitoba is looking to Ontario to see if it's time to increase penalties for drivers who text or talk on cellphones while driving.

Ontario Transportation Minister and former Winnipeg mayor Glen Murray on Monday said that province will amend its distracted-driving law by increasing fines to as much as $1,000 and adding three demerit points to send the message drivers can't use a hand-held device while driving.

"We always keep our eye on what's going on in different provinces," Manitoba Justice Minister Andrew Swan said Wednesday. "Frankly, there are still too many Manitobans whether they're driving or riding a bike that are still giving less than their full attention to the road.

"We're going to keep looking at that issue."

Swan said the province is not considering extending penalties to cyclists who pedal and talk on the phone.

The province last upped penalties for distracted driving Aug. 1 when, in addition to a fine of $200, it began levying two demerit points. Demerits add to the cost of renewing drivers' licences and auto insurance costs.

Police have said a texting driver is 23 times more likely to be involved in a crash than a non-texting driver.

"There are still too many people who are driving while distracted and unfortunately a large number of tragedies on our highways are because of people not giving the road the appropriate attention," Swan said.

"The bigger picture is we want to look at more ways to get the message across that texting and driving is extremely dangerous to the person doing it but also everybody else on the road."

Swan added that includes increasing public-awareness campaigns coupled with the possibility of increased enforcement and sanctions.

Swan has said if the number of distracted drivers does not decline, an additional demerit point could be added.

On Wednesday, he would not comment on when the province would make such a move.

In Ontario, Murray's new legislation would increase fines for distracted driving to a range of $300 to $1,000, up from $60 to $500, and levy three demerit points upon conviction.

The Keeping Ontario's Roads Safe Act would also increase fines for drivers who open their door into the path of a cyclist to a range of $300 to $1,000, up from $60 to $500, and raise the demerit points from two to three.

It would also require all drivers to maintain a distance of one metre when passing cyclists. Several U.S. states have similar rules and cyclists in Manitoba are lobbying the Selinger government to do the same.

April is Distracted Driving Awareness Month in the United States with law enforcement running special campaigns across the country ticketing offenders.

The U.S. Department of Transportation says the most serious offenders are young and inexperienced drivers with 16 per cent of all distracted driving crashes involving drivers under 20.

bruce.owen@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 3, 2014 A2

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