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Distracted drivers may soon face stricter penalties

Transport Minister says he's mulling demerit points for people who text, hold phone while driving

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Talking on the phone, texting or using any hand-held device while driving is against the law — but many of us still do it.

In fact, more than 90 per cent of Canadian drivers surveyed confess they do.

But motorists in Ontario may soon be facing stiffer penalties, which could include demerit points along with the current $155 fine for the offence, as the provincial government considers bringing in new legislation.

Transportation Minister Glen Murray told CTV news this week that the government acknowledges everyone is using a handheld device and it’s time to re-examine the penalties relating to their use on the road.

“We now live in the world of BlackBerrys and iPhones,” Murray said. “It’s a different reality and the consequences of using them are similar to what we have with drinking and driving. So it’s time to really look at what are the kinds of penalties that will work.”

More than 51,000 tickets were issued to Ontario motorists for talking on cell phones and using electronic devices this year alone, and about 250,000 drivers have been fined since the province made distracted driving illegal in 2009.

A Ford of Canada survey shows just how widespread the practice is even though motorists are aware it can mean getting a fine of $100 to $2,000 depending on the circumstances.

Of the 528 Canadian teenagers (16-19) and 528 parents polled online by Leger in August, 93 per cent of the teens and 97 per cent of the adults, all of who had valid drivers licences, admitted they had engaged in some form of distracted driving.

And at 73 per cent Ontario teen drivers rated slightly worse than the national average, while adults fared better at 62 per cent, compared to the 72 per cent of Canadian teens who admitted to having talked on the phone or texting while on the road.

While drivers in most of the country also get hit with three to four demerit points when caught, drivers in Ontario, Nova Scotia, Manitoba and Alberta do not. All Canadian provinces and territories, except Nunavut, have specific distracted driving legislation restricting the use of hand-held devices.

Fines generally range from $100 to $400 but can rise significantly in a careless driving charge if an accident occurs or their activity endangers others.

Ford cites studies showing cellphone use is the most common driver distraction and text messaging motorists are 23 times more likely to have an accident or near-miss than non-distracted drivers.

Its survey also found that teens and parents are in agreement that distracted driving is the second-most dangerous driving habit next to drinking and driving, yet only one in five of both teen and adult subjects polled said they use some form of hands-free device most of the time they are behind the wheel.

“We want people to be aware of the dangers of distracted driving and help them develop safer driving habits,” said Dianne Craig, president and CEO of Ford of Canada.

Craig noted that Ford, like all major car makers, incorporates a wide variety of driver technology involving voice recognition and call and text blockers to divert messages to voicemail and smart phone drives that can be accessed once motorists pull over.

Hand-Held Cell Phone Legislation in Canada*

Province                   Fine           Demerits        Since

British Columbia      $167           3                      February 2010

Alberta                      $172           None               September 2011

Saskatchewan           $280           4                      January 2010

Manitoba                  $200            None               July 2010

Ontario                     $155            None               October 2009

Quebec                     $115-$154   3                     April 2008

Nfld/Labrador          $100-$400   4                     April 2003

P.E.I                         $250-$400    3                     January 2010

Nova Scotia             $164             None               April 2008

New Brunswick       $172.50        3                     June 2011

Yukon                      $250             3                     April 2011

N.W.T.                     $100             3                     January 2012

Nunavut                                                               Nothing at this time

*Figures from Canadian Automobile Association (CAA)

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