Source: Toronto Sun
TORONTO – Motorists convicted of driving while chatting or texting on a handheld cellphone face three demerit points and fines of up to $1,000 under Ontario legislation introduced Monday.
The province is already increasing the $155 distracted driving fine to $280 as of Tuesday.
The legislation, if passed however, would increase the minimum penalty to at least $300 and as much as $1,000.
The Keeping Ontario’s Roads Safe Act would also require drivers passing cyclists to keep a distance of at least one metre.
The wide-ranging bill would make it illegal for a driver to enter a regular pedestrian or school crosswalk until it was completely clear, and would mandate that motorists slow down and move over for a stopped tow truck with flashing amber lights.
The CAA, cycling advocates and leaders in the trucking industry gave the bill the thumbs up.
Transportation Minister Glen Murray said he’s certain motorists will support the legislation, too.
“It’s very clear to me that this works,” Murray said. “It will actually increase mobility, it will reduce the pressure on automobiles, it will make it easier, create much better traffic flows.”
The proposed legislation absorbs many other bills brought forward by government and opposition members, and Murray is optimistic it will be passed by the Ontario legislature this spring.
The OPP and coroner’s office identified certain problem driving behaviours as life-threatening and worthy of stronger deterrence measures, Murray said.
For instance, the bill jacks up fines for “dooring” — opening a vehicle door into the path of an oncoming cyclist — up to $1,000.
“Distracted driving, drinking and driving, dooring — all of those are going to be treated as very serious because they are,” Murray said. “And they will be between $300 and $1,000 — that moves them up to our highest category of fines.”
He said the government will continue to work with transportation stakeholders, like the CAA, on other pressing concerns like adult cyclists on sidewalks and drug-related driving impairment, although there is nothing in the bill that specifically addresses these issues.
Murray said he’s also open to the idea of expanding the definition of distracted driving to include activities such as putting on makeup or eating food, but that is also not included in the legislation.
When asked if motorists would balk at the one-metre rule for passing bikes, especially on congested city streets, Murray said other jurisdictions have successfully implemented such a law.
The one-metre rule would provide clarity for drivers who might otherwise pass too close to a cyclist or swerve too far to avoid one.
“I think it’s absolutely absurd not to have it,” he said.
Murray insisted that drivers weren’t centred out in the bill for penalties, noting that pedestrians would not be allowed to enter a crosswalk if an approaching vehicle did not have time to stop.
Cyclists would have to ensure that they are visible at night, he said.
“Everyone has some rights here and everyone has some responsibilities,” Murray added.