Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Two demerits for texting while driving

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MAYBE, just maybe, that phone call, text or Twitter update really isn't that important.

Maybe, just maybe, the best place for the iPhone or BlackBerry or Galaxy is the glove compartment.

That's because the Manitoba government upped the ante in its crackdown on drivers who use their hand-held devices while weaving in and out of traffic.

On Friday, Justice Minister Andrew Swan said as of Aug. 1, anyone caught using a phone behind the wheel would get smacked with two demerit points on top of a $200 fine. Demerit points affect the costs of vehicle insurance and renewing a driver's licence.

"Too many drivers have not changed their behaviour," Swan said.

City police say a texting driver is 23 times more likely to be involved in a crash than a non-texting driver.

Manitoba Public Insurance says about 160 road deaths have been linked to distracted driving since 2005, about 20 a year.

The two-demerit penalty is not insignificant. Under MPI's driver-rating system, moving down the demerit scale costs drivers more to renew their licence, up to $2,500, depending on their driving record.

Swan said two demerits was picked because it's the same penalty for a speeding offence.

He also said law enforcement will watch during the next year to assess the effects on the number of distracted-driving offences. If the numbers do not budge downward, an additional demerit point could be added.

Winnipeg Police Service Staff Sgt. Rob Riffel said police are issuing more tickets for distracted driving as enforcement increases.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 22, 2013 A19

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