Metro Morning

Liberal MPP proposes stiffer penalties for careless driving convictions

A Liberal MPP who lost her husband a decade ago after he was hit by a truck while cycling will introduce amendments to the Highway Traffic Act today that will stiffen penalties for a careless-driving conviction.

Eleanor McMahon, MPP for Burlington, lost husband 10 years ago when he was struck while cycling

Liberal MPP Eleanor McMahon says there should be stiffer penalties for careless driving causing bodily harm or death. (CBC News)

A Liberal MPP who lost her husband a decade ago after he was hit by a truck while cycling introduced amendments to the Highway Traffic Act today that will stiffen penalties for those convicted of careless driving.

Back in 2006, Eleanor McMahon's husband, OPP Sgt. Greg Stobbart, was cycling on a country road in Milton while off duty when he was clipped by a truck. The 45-year-old died in hospital two hours later.

The driver of the truck was convicted of careless driving and driving with a suspended licence and sentenced to 100 hours of community service. The suspension of his licence was also extended.

"It left all of us feeling rather unsatisfied in terms of the outcome," McMahon told CBC Radio's Metro Morning on Thursday.

The driver who hit Stobbart had previous convictions for driving with a suspended licence and driving without a licence, as well as $15,000 in unpaid fines. He hit someone else two months after killing Stobbart, McMahon said.

"When you're married to a police officer you really get the sense of some of … the frustrations that are the day-to-day experience that they have," McMahon told Metro Morning.

"That the laws that they have aren't always perfect, they wish that they were better and they're powerless to do anything about it. Well, now I'm in a position to do something about it."

'Need a broader spectrum of penalties'

After her husband died, McMahon advocated for and secured changes to the Highway Traffic Act that stiffened the penalties for driving with a suspended licence. She knew then, as a community activist, that eventually she would tackle careless driving. Now as an MPP, she is in a position to do that.

"Really what [careless driving] is, is it's a big, giant catch-all into which falls many, many incidents, and it doesn't really provide us with the spectrum and the specificity that we need to really target people who kill someone or cause bodily harm," she said.

"That's what I'm addressing today."

The evidentiary bar for dangerous driving is high, according to McMahon. That results in many cases where a pedestrian or cyclist has been struck and either injured or killed winding up with a careless driving charge for the driver involved.

A careless driving conviction carries a maximum fine of $2,000 and a jail sentence of six months. McMahon's amendments would raise the maximum fine when someone has been killed or suffered bodily harm to $50,000 and the maximum jail sentence to two years.

"I'm not saying that everyone needs to go to jail," McMahon said. "But we do need a broader spectrum of penalties that reflect the seriousness of an offence."

McMahon believes that the driver who struck her husband would have received a jail sentence if a charge of careless driving causing death existed. She hopes her proposed amendments will give a sense of satisfaction to the families who have lost someone in a cycling or pedestrian incident.

"People get careless, they get charged with careless and they end up with a $500 fine. Nobody feels good about that," she said.

"The police officer doesn't feel terribly good about it and the family doesn't feel very good, they don't feel that justice has been served. So today is the beginning of a conversation about what we can do to strengthen those penalties and keep our roads safer."

With files from Metro Morning

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