A man is seen texting on a Blackberry phone while sitting behind the wheel of a vehicle.

The bill, “A Federal Framework on Distracted Driving Act,” was introduced on Oct. 18. Currently, every province and territory in Canada, except for Nunavut, has some form of distracted driving laws.

A Liberal MP is calling on the federal justice and transport ministers to develop a plan to tackle distracted driving across Canada.

Doug Eyolfson, the rookie MP for the Manitoba riding of Charleswood-St. James-Assiniboia-Headingley, has brought forward a private members’ bill, Bill C-373, for personal reasons, but also because he thinks it’s time to look at what more can be done to deter the practice, and whether distracted driving laws in Canada need to be toughened.

In an interview with CTV News, Eyolfson said distracted driving is a big problem nationwide that has come up relatively quickly, and he wants governments across the country to make the enforcement of distracted driving more consistent between all the provinces and territories.

Liberal MP Doug Eyolfson in the House of Commons on Oct. 25, 2017.

Liberal MP Doug Eyolfson in the House of Commons on Oct. 25, 2017. (CTVNews.ca / Rachel Aiello)

“The laws across the country are not uniform,” he said. “We have catch-up to do in really getting a handle on the scope of the problem.”

Currently, every province and territory in Canada, except for Nunavut, has some form of distracted driving laws. The policy is mainly focused on the use of hand-held devices, like cellphones. According to CAA, all provinces and territories will penalize distracted drivers with between three and five demerit points. The fines for distracted driving across Canada range from a minimum fine of $80 in Quebec, to a maximum fine in Prince Edward Island of $1,200.

The bill, “A Federal Framework on Distracted Driving Act,” was introduced on Oct. 18. Eyolfson’s first chance to debate the bill is expected to be Nov. 29.

Bill C-373 calls on Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould and Transport Minister Marc Garneau to work with their provincial and territorial counterparts and stakeholders to develop a federal framework to deter distracted driving, and streamline the enforcement of distracted driving laws across Canada, within 18 months of Eyolfson’s bill passing.

The framework would include improving data collection across the country to see nation-wide statistics on distracted driving incidents; setting a uniform standard for public education programs to deter distracted driving; explore the role of driver-assistance technology; opening up the channels between jurisdictions to discuss what approaches are working to combat it; and evaluating whether amendments should be made to federal legislation or policy. This bill does not propose any change to the current penalties.

The report would have to be tabled in all provincial and territorial legislatures, and made public online.

“With any problem you need to define the scope of it,” said Eyolfson. “By collecting the data that will give us an idea of how much resources are needed to address this.”

It’s personal

Eyolfson said for him, the bill is personal, as a runner and motorcyclist he said he’s lost count of the number of close calls he’s had.

He was an emergency room doctor before being elected to Parliament in 2015. He said over his career he’s treated many patients for injuries as a result of distracted driving.

“Some with tragic outcomes,” he said.

As well, in 2009 a friend of his teen sister was killed coming home from a Halloween party when the car she was in was hit by someone texting and driving.

‘A very good time to have this conversation’

“Right now, a person is more likely to be a victim of distracted driving than a victim of impaired driving,” said Eyolfson when tabling the bill in the House.

Ontario Provincial Police statistics show that distracted driving is causing more collisions than speeding and impaired driving combined, and as of Sept. 1, at least 47 people have died from the distracted-driving crashes, which us up from 39 over the same period of time in 2016.

Eyolfson said he thinks that now is “a very good time to have this conversation,” considering that Parliament is currently studying and making changes to impaired driving laws.

The federal government, through Bill C-46, part of the Liberal’s marijuana legalization package, is proposing to change Canada’s impaired driving laws to give law enforcement new powers to conduct roadside intoxication tests, and would make it illegal to drive within two hours of being over the legal limit. The bill passed report stage vote in the House of Commons Wednesday evening, and is expected to be off to the Senate soon.

“We can tackle as many issues as we can that make driving less safe,” he said.

As he waits for his turn to bring the issue up in the House of Commons, Eyolfson says he’s planning to reach out to his colleagues both in his caucus, and across the aisle to build support. It’s uncommon for private members’ bills to advance without government support.

With files from Jeff Lagerquist

Distracted driving penalties in Canada

Province Fine Demerit points
Alberta $287 33
British Columbia $543 – $888 44
Manitoba $200 55
New Brunswick $172 33
Newfoundland and Labrador $300 – $1,000 44
Northwest Territories $322 – $644 33
Nova Scotia $233 – $578 44
Nunavut 0 00
Ontario $490 – $1000 33
Prince Edward Island $500 – $1200 55
Quebec $80 – $100 44
Saskatchewan $280 44
Yukon $250 33

Source: CTV News