Drivers in Saskatchewan will have an extra incentive to put down their cellphones starting in February, as distracted driving fines are set to more than double.
Starting Feb. 1, 2020, a first-time offender caught driving distracted will be issued a $580 ticket and four demerit points.
People who offend an additional time within a year of being convicted will have face an immediate seven-day vehicle seizure, steeper fines, and lose four more demerit points. The fine for a second offence is $1,400, climbing to $2,100 for a third offence.
Drivers will also be responsible for towing and impound fees associated with a vehicle seizure. The fees will vary, but the province estimates $400 as the ballpark for a tow and week in an impound lot.
Each demerit point on your license also carries a $50 fee for every point below zero. So If you were at plus one, a distracted driving conviction would land you at negative three points — a $150 fee.
“Enough is enough,” Minister Responsible for SGI Joe Hargrave said.
“Despite increased enforcement by police and significant awareness efforts by SGI, 22 people lost their lives on Saskatchewan roads in 2018 due to distracted driving or inattention. That is 22 deaths too many.”
On top of the 22 deaths associated with distracted driving last year, SGI (Saskatchewan Government Insurance) said it played a role in over 6,000 collisions and 774 injuries.
Currently, a distracted driving ticket is worth $280, four demerit points and a temporary vehicle seizure for repeat offenders.
Hargrave said they arrived at these new fines by looking at other provinces and noted Saskatchewan is currently among the lower end of the spectrum for fine amounts.
“We hope this is sufficient to get people to get the message to stop doing it. If not, we’re prepared to go that further step whatever that may be,” Hargrave said.
Provincial police statistics reported to SGI show more people are driving while distracted in the province. The insurer said there have been more than 1,000 distracted driving tickets issued in May and July this year. The vast majority of drivers were using their cellphones behind the wheel.
Regina police traffic officer Mike “Hawkeye” Seel’s main duties include patrolling the city for distracted drivers. He said he’s seen it all, from basic phone calls to people watching videos on their phones while driving.
He’s hopeful the combination of higher fines and education will keep more eyes on the road.
“That’s one thing I try to do with my Twitter account is have fun, but also educate people about what you can and can’t do on a regular basis. It reminds me a lot of impaired driving,” Seel said.
“It was a very serious issue until police started increasing enforcement and fines, so I feel like this will be a good deterrent for people.”
On Oct. 23, Hargrave said he hopes to see an immediate decline in distracted driving once the new penalties take effect. Despite the previously stated hope for an immediate decline in distracted driving, Hargrave said it will likely take longer to see results.
“It takes a year, maybe a year-and-a-half to two years to see what the effect is,” Hargrave said.
“We know with impaired driving, when we increased the penalties for impaired driving, the number of tickets has stayed high because we increased enforcement but the number of deaths on our highways has dropped. So we know penalties are a key factor, but also education and awareness are crucial factors.”
Based on the experience of other provinces that have increased their distracted driving fines, it does take time to get drivers to hang up.
Manitoba increased its fines on Nov. 1, 2018. Winnipeg police say they have issued fewer tickets, but are still seeing drivers using cellphones all the time.
Manitoba Public Insurance said distracted driving convictions are similar year-over-year since the fines increased, but about 90 per cent of convictions were first time offenders.
The Ontario Provincial Police reported a similar trend — fewer tickets, but officers are still seeing far more distracted drivers than they are ticketing.
Prince Edward Island increased its fines in 2015, and saw a virtually immediate decline in distracted driving convictions. P.E.I had recorded their highest conviction rate in 2015, 327. The next year, convictions dropped to 200 and have fallen each year.
Only 83 people were convicted of distracted driving in 2018.