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Harsher penalties may finally drive home message

The numbers coming out of a CAA Manitoba survey released yesterday should serve as a literal “heads up” to motorists in this province.

Four years after the provincial government enacted legislation to curb texting and driving on Manitoba roads and highways, distracted driving is still very much a public menace.

“Distracted driving has now overtaken impaired driving as the No. 1 safety concern on our roadways,” Angèle Young, public and government affairs specialist for CAA Manitoba, said in a press release.

A CAA Manitoba survey released Monday says 99 per cent of more than 7,000 survey respondents said they still see people talking or texting on their cellphones while driving.

Further to that, more than 82 per cent of those surveyed said they don’t think the police will catch offenders.

Just last year, the provincial government implemented stiffer penalties for anyone caught using a hand-held cellphone while driving in Manitoba.

In addition to a $200 fine, motorists caught paying more attention to their cellphone than the road are dinged with an additional two demerit points to their driver’s licence. The point of these harsher penalties was to persuade drivers to use their common sense and pull over to the side of the road or wait until reaching their destination before answering a call or a text.

But even with these harsher penalties, apparently a number of drivers are just not getting the message.

Manitoba Public Insurance statistics suggest that about 25 Manitoba road deaths can be attributed to distracted driving each year.

Across the province, nearly 1,500 tickets were issued to Manitoba drivers who were observed using an electronic hand-held device during a distracted driving crackdown in April. That’s down from the 1,800 provincial offence notices issued to motorists during a similar crackdown last November.

Brandon police said they handed out 67 tickets for cellphone use during that month. Another 28 distracted driving tickets were laid by general patrol and traffic unit officers during in that same time period, outside of the checkstop. And as you can read in today’s Sun, BPS officers this year have so far issued 481 tickets for distracted driving, a number that has remained consistent for the past four years.

Manitoba is in the middle of the pack when it comes to the fines and penalties other provincial governments hand out for distracted driving. Saskatchewan, for example, fines offenders $280 and gives them four demerits on their driver’s licence.

And just days ago, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne promised to reintroduce legislation that would implement stiffer fines for distracted drivers. The original Liberal government bill, which was introduced prior to the calling of Ontario’s June 12 election, would have imposed a $1,000 fine and three demerit points for distracted driving infractions.

When he first introduced the harsher penalties last year, Manitoba Justice Minister Andrew Swan noted that two demerits was picked because it’s the same penalty as for a speeding offence. He also said that law enforcement would assess the effects of the new penalties on the number of distracted driving offences for a year following their implementation, and if the numbers didn’t decline, the province would consider the addition of another demerit point.

Unfortunately, Manitoba motorists seem to be a little slow to understand the dangers of not keeping their focus on the road while behind the wheel. And we don’t believe driver behaviour will change all that much based on merely one additional demerit point.

We suggest our provincial government introduce similar legislation to that of Ontario. Perhaps more pain in the pocket book — or at least the threat of it — will get the motoring public’s attention.

Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition July 15, 2014

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The numbers coming out of a CAA Manitoba survey released yesterday should serve as a literal “heads up” to motorists in this province.

Four years after the provincial government enacted legislation to curb texting and driving on Manitoba roads and highways, distracted driving is still very much a public menace.

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The numbers coming out of a CAA Manitoba survey released yesterday should serve as a literal “heads up” to motorists in this province.

Four years after the provincial government enacted legislation to curb texting and driving on Manitoba roads and highways, distracted driving is still very much a public menace.

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