Demerit points considered for texting while driving

(Photo by Heather Davidson)

Drivers who are caught texting may be facing a penalty worse than a fine.

Ontario’s governing Liberals have plans to administer potentially three demerit points to motorists who are phoning or texting while driving.

“I’m hoping that once people receive demerit points it will wake them up,” said Bas Balkissoon, the MPP for Scarborough-Rough River who introduced the private member’s bill on this topic.

“You look at all the highway traffic infractions and whenever they were implemented it showed a change in behaviour.”

Currently the Highway Traffic Act (HTA) Section 78.1 only administers a fine for those using any wireless device while driving.

The act was brought in 2009 and has not showed a decline in texting while driving, according to Balkissoon.

Since 2009, there have been 235, 427 charges laid for those violating HTA 78.1, with 51, 776 infractions occurring since January 2013.

“It has not changed behaviour at all,” explained Balkissoon.

According to Patrick Searle, a spokesperson from the ministry of transportation, the Ontario government is currently consulting with safety and transportation stakeholders on a “number of possible road safety enhancements.”

Other penalties that are being evaluated include “dooring,” which is when cyclists collide with a vehicle door that’s suddenly opened.

“We continue to monitor closely the effectiveness of HTA Section 78.1,” he added. “However, there is no timeline for new legislation to be introduced or action to be taken.”

Balkissoon explained to The Cord that his private member’s act will be debated Thursday of this week.

The minister of transportation, Glenn Murray, has offered his support of the act, hoping hat the legislation will approve the initiative.

“It could receive final approval maybe later this year,” Balkissoon said.

“[If it’s not approved] the Minister himself can actually change regulations.”

Six Canadian provinces and two territories currently penalize with demerit points for cell phone use while driving.  According to the Canadian Automobile Association, fines in other provinces range from $100 – $400.

HTA 78.1 fines start at $115 in Ontario. Balkissoon would like to see an increase of fines with his private member’s bill, going as high up as $700.
“If you receive nine [demerit points] in two years, then you will have to take your drivers test again,” he added.

When asked about the reasoning behind his new private member’s bill, Balkissoon explained, “There’s too many incidents of cell phone usage without Bluetooth that has resulted in some really terrible accidents.”

“In fact, a driver in a small truck was using their phone and collided with a bus and killed a person who was boarding the bus at the time. The bus was standing still,” he said.

“That’s what prompted me to do this.”

Balkissoon also mentioned that he hopes community groups will rise against texting while driving, creating organizations and outreach programs. He explained that education was “best dealt with young people.”

So far at Queen’s Park, Balkissoon’s private member’s bill has been well received.

“Everybody’s supportive,” he said. “[The act] clearly states that this is being done to support public safety.”

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