Ontario not increasing penalties for distracted driving despite increase in deaths

Ontario Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca responds to questions at Queen's Park on Thursday, Sept. 29, 2016. Craig Wadman / Global News

Ontario Provincial Police say this year, for the first time since distracted driving laws were introduced in Ontario in 2009, the number of deaths related to distracted driving are set to far exceed the number of deaths related to impaired driving.

As of mid-August, the OPP had investigated 38 deaths related to inattentive drivers – double the 19 deaths involving an impaired driver.

Starting this weekend, police in Ontario will have increased power to impose penalties on drivers suspected of being impaired by drug use.

READ MORE: New penalties coming into effect for drug-impaired drivers in Ontario

But despite the rising numbers of fatalities, there are no similar plans to increase penalties for distracted drivers.

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Ontario Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca says the topic came up yesterday at a meeting of the federal and provincial transport ministers.

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“I conveyed very clearly to the table that it’s really important for us to grapple with this because we are seeing alarming numbers,” said Del Duca.

“We recognize that it is a bit of an epidemic right now and a very serious challenge here in the province of Ontario.”

But despite the rising numbers, Del Duca wouldn’t commit to stiffer penalties, telling Global News that the decision to criminalize distracted driving rests with the federal government.

When asked by Global News what more can be done to prevent distracted driving, Del Duca pointed to a public awareness campaign recently launched by the provincial government.

He also pointed out rules that came into effect in Ontario in August 2015 increasing the fine for distracted driving to $490 and three demerit points.

READ MORE: Transport ministers won’t commit to criminalizing distracted driving

Opposition parties called on the government to do more.

“I think we absolutely need to do something,” said NDP MPP Jagmeet Singh.

“It shouldn’t be that we need more deaths to happen for the government to take action. The government hasn’t taken action so far. We need the government to take some steps, actually implement something that will actually bring down the rates of distracted driving.”

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“There needs to be action,” said Progressive Conservative Leader Patrick Brown.

“I would love to see what the police recommendations are before presuming what the what the solution would be.”

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