Manitoba distracted drivers to face stiffest penalties in Canada

The Manitoba government is hoping to deter drivers from reaching for their cellphones while behind the wheel with new distracted driving legislation

Convicted drivers face fines, 5-demerit penalty, says Manitoba Minister of Justice Gord Mackintosh

Manitoba distracted drivers to face stiffest penalties in Canada

7 years ago
Duration 2:10
The province is hoping to deter drivers from reaching for that cellphone while behind the wheel with new distracted driving legislation.
The Manitoba government is hoping to deter drivers from reaching for that cellphone while behind the wheel with new distracted driving legislation.
Texting while driving will cost Manitoba drivers five demerits starting July 1. (Intel Free Press/Wikimedia Commons)

Current laws see distracted drivers receive two demerits and a $200 fine. Starting July 1, drivers caught on their phones will be slapped with five demerits and a $200 fine.

The change will hit drivers who already have between 10 and 15 demerits the hardest. They'll be forced to pay between $542 and $3,200 depending on their record.

With the new legislation, Manitoba becomes the province with the most strict demerit penalty system in Canada.

The family of 17-year-old Amutha Subramaniam is praising the move. Amutha died instantly in a crash on Bishop Grandin in 2010. The driver was drunk, speeding on cruise control and texting when she crashed into the car that had Amutha and four others inside.

"They're taking it seriously and it makes me feel that my sister's life wasn't taken in complete vain," said Amutha's sister Anita Subramaniamm, adding even first-time offenders should face severe punishment.

"When you take away someone's life … that's murder, and however you do it, whether it's a knife, a gun or a car, you should be penalized." 
Amutha Subramaniam, 17, was killed in the crash, while three others suffered varying degrees of injuries. ((CBC))

Senhit Mehari, 19, was also killed in the crash. Two others were seriously injured, while another was taken to hospital with non-life-threatening injuries.

"Information campaigns [are] not working, so I think it's having to change the laws to deter people from such stupidity."

'New big killer on the block'

"Distracted driving and the use of cellphones is the new big killer on the block" said Manitoba Minister of Justice and Attorney General Gord Mackintosh. "Not only does it destroy lives, it costs MPI ratepayers, too, quite frankly."

28 Manitobans are killed every year by a distracted driver.- Minister Gord Mackintosh

Last year, 5,200 people were convicted of distracted driving in the province. In 2013 those numbers were slightly worse, with 5,231 drivers caught on their phones while behind the wheel.

Using a phone while driving makes you four times more likely to get in a collision. Texting in particular leaves drivers 23 times more likely to get in a crash.

"We drive on our streets and our roads to go to work, to go to play, not to go to die," the minister said. 

"To those who drive impaired, to those who drive while on their cellphones, Manitobans are saying, over and over again, we're increasingly fed up, and they're saying we need stronger measures, and we need them now."

Harsher impaired driving laws

The province also introduced more strict penalties for drunk drivers.

Drivers who blow between 0.05 to 0.08 currently face a 24-hour suspension. That goes up to three days next month. The province is also extending roadside suspension periods for alcohol or drug offences to seven days if someone under the age of 16 is in the vehicle at the time.
Drivers in Manitoba will face longer licence suspensions for driving while drunk starting July 1. (CBC)

Manitoba's ignition interlock program currently gives convicted drivers a bit of a pass, allowing them to simply sit out and not drive during their probation period if they don't want to have a breathalyzer system installed.

The new legislation changes that, forcing convicted impaired drivers to have a breathalyzer installed in their vehicles without giving them the option of waiting out the suspension, which the minister described as a behavioural modification tool.

"There's been a reduction in fatalities and serious injuries due to impaired driving during the period of 2006-2010. Thirty-six per cent reduction," said Mackintosh.

"But the bad news is 29 Manitobans are still killed every year by a drunk driver and 28 Manitobans are killed every year by a distracted driver — someone on the cellphone, someone texting."

A CAA spokesperson said they hope the new rules help stigmatize impaired and distracted driving.

"We would love to see talking on your phone, texting, as being a socially unacceptable behaviour. We're not there yet," the spokesperson said. 


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