Roadside suspensions on the way for Manitobans caught texting and driving

The Manitoba government is wanting immediate roadside licence suspensions on top of existing fines and demerit points for distracted drivers. Paul Chiasson / The Canadian Press

WINNIPEG – Manitoba has become the latest province to pursue tougher penalties, including immediate licence suspensions, for people who use a hand-held cellphone or other electronic device while driving.

Infrastructure Minister Ron Schuler started to introduce a bill Friday that would allow police to suspend a driver’s licence for three days for a first offence and for seven days for a subsequent infraction.

The licence suspensions would be on top of existing fines of $204 and five demerit points.

READ MORE: Winnipeg police frustrated texting and driving still continues on the roads

Schuler hinted those penalties may also be increased under the proposed law, but he was prevented from releasing it publicly because the Opposition New Democrats delayed proceedings in the legislature before the bill could be formally introduced.

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The NDP kept up the delay tactics until time ran out Friday, so Schuler will have to try again Monday.

He said that between 2011 and 2016, accidents caused by impaired driving in Manitoba went down, but accidents caused by distracted driving jumped to 11,086 from 2,415.

“This is going to be really serious consequences,” he said. “I’ll give you the rest of the details on Monday.”

Other provinces, including Ontario and Quebec, have already announced plans to suspend the licences of distracted motorists.

READ MORE: Majority of Canadians say texting and driving is worse than 3 years ago: poll

Ontario announced last year it would introduce licence suspensions and also increase fines for distracted driving to $3,000 for repeat offenders.

Ontario’s plan will also impose severe penalties for careless drivers who cause death or bodily harm – up to two years in jail, a $50,000 fine and a five-year licence suspension.

Manitoba New Democrats said they support the aim of Schuler’s bill, but were delaying to protest another matter.

READ MORE: Distracted driving deaths outpacing impaired driving deaths

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The NDP is upset because Tory cabinet ministers have been making official statements recently about new bills in the legislature without giving the Opposition time to read the bills. The move has left New Democrat members, who are allowed an immediate response to each minister’s statement in the chamber, scrambling to put together a reply.

“They introduce a bill and literally within minutes, as a critic, I’m supposed to stand up and make a response to it,” said NDP legislature member Jim Maloway.

“Totally unfair.”

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