Saskatchewan has eye on Manitoba's harsh new distracted driving laws

Minister responsible for SGI Joe Hargrave says he will be closely watching Manitoba's new Highways Traffic Act that will fine distracted drivers $672, suspend licenses for three to seven days, and add five demerit points to their licence.

Manitoba distracted driving fine more than triples to $672 on November 1

Saskatchewan is closely watching as Manitoba enacts the harshest penalty in Canada for first-time offenders of distracted driving. (iStock)

The Saskatchewan government is keeping a close eye on Manitoba's new Highway Traffic Act.

Starting Nov. 1, distracted driving fines in Manitoba will more than triple, up to $672 from $203. 

Joe Hargrave, Minister Responsible for SGI, said he's not afraid to follow Manitoba's lead, but wouldn't commit to more severe punishment.

"We're going to be more aggressive if it's necessary, that's for sure," Hargrave said. 

The distracted driving fine in Saskatchewan is $280, which is on the lower end of distracted driving fines in Canada. Only New Brunswick is lower at $172.50.

Minister responsible for SGI Joe Hargrave says he will be closely watching the effect of Manitoba's new Highway Traffic Act that cracks down on distracted drivers. (CBC News)

With the coming change, Manitoba will go from having one of the lowest distracted driving fines in Canada to one of the harshest for first time offenders. 

It isn't the first province to take a tough stance:

  • Prince Edward Island is the next highest at $575.
  • In B.C. your first offence is $543, but if you get caught a second time that jumps to $888.
  • In Yukon it costs you $500 for a distracted driving fine.
  • In Ontario the fine is $490 if you pay it right away. But if you fight it and lose, you'll pay $1,000.

Manitoba's minister responsible for Manitoba Public Insurance Ron Schuler said they've made the move because the insurance agency came to them asking for a stronger punishment.

In 2012, there were 4,780 distracted driving-related crashed in Manitoba. That number ballooned to more than 15,000 in 2017. Distracted driving also killed more Manitobans in 2017 than impaired driving crashes. 

"This is a serious public policy question that we needed to have," Schuler said. "The question was how were we going to take it on."

Last January, the Saskatchewan government introduced clearer rules for what is and is not allowed when it comes to cell phone use in a vehicle. Hargrave said they're expecting the number of convictions to grow with increased police enforcement and that convictions should come easier. 

According to SGI, distracted driving collisions have gone up and down over the last five years. Last year there were 6,399 distracted driving related crashes in Saskatchewan. The 26 people killed was the fewest number in five years.

Texting and driving will cost you $672, five demerit points and your licence for three days in Manitoba. Subsequent offences within ten years carry the same fine and demerit points, but the suspension is seven days. (CBC)

Schuler said for Manitoba this isn't just about the human cost, but also monetary cost. He said distracted driving costed that province about $60 million.

As of Nov.1, Manitobans caught with a cell phone will driving will get a $672 fine, a three-day licence suspension and five demerit points on their record. The person will have to wait three days and pay $50 to get their licence back. If a person is caught for the same reason any time over the next 10 years, they'll face the same fine and demerit points, but the license suspension is for seven days.

The merit and demerit points make a huge impact on the cost of a driver's licence and vehicle registration in Manitoba. Merit points max out at 15 and that gives drivers a 33 per cent discount on their auto pack premiums and their driver's licence. Meanwhile demerit points cap out at minus-20, at which point a person would have to pay about $3,500 to get their driver's licence.

"It's very punitive, but it's meant to be. Those are high-risk drivers," said Brian Smiley, media relations coordinator for Manitoba Public Insurance. He added that the system is designed to help people who improve their records get out of the hole fairly quick.

"If they show one year of convictions-free, claims-free driving, they move from a minus 20 to about a minus 15."


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