Premier Kathleen Wynne says she’s concerned that Ontario teens are forming bad habits when it comes to texting while driving, after a new survey suggested an alarming number of students are typing while behind the wheel.
“It’s very worrisome to me because when young people start to have a habit of driving and texting, that’s harder to break,” she said.
Her re-elected Liberal government will bring back legislation that would toughen penalties and add demerit points for distracted driving, Wynne said.
“These machines are so ubiquitous in their lives that they just have them with them all the time, and so we need to break that cycle,” she said.
The survey conducted for the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health found that more than one-third of licensed Ontario students in Grades 10 to 12 _ an estimated 108,000 teens _ reported having texted while behind the wheel at least once in the past year.
Among Grade 12 students alone, 46 per cent of those who drive say they also texted at least once while operating a vehicle, according to the 2013 Ontario Student Drug Use and Health Survey.
Yet the student surveys have found that the percentage of students who reported drinking and driving has declined dramatically over the past 20 years, it said.
There are more deaths as a result of texting while driving than drunk driving, Wynne said.
“It’s a real problem and that’s why we’ll be re-introducing the legislation.”
The previous bill, which would impose three demerit points in addition to increasing the maximum fine for distracted driving to $1,000, died when the June 12 election was called.
Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca said it’s important to re-introduce the legislation as soon as possible, but couldn’t provide an exact date.
The survey’s findings were “troubling,” he said.
“It helps underscore the fact that we really need to engage in an aggressive public awareness campaign to make sure people understand how dangerous it is and to make sure that we move in the right direction,” he added.
In 2009, Ontario banned the use of handheld devices to text, email or talk while driving, except for 911 calls.
The province’s top court says it’s illegal to even hold a phone while driving.
Drivers are also forbidden from using portable video games or DVD players. Global positioning systems are allowed, as long as they’re properly secured to the dashboard.
But last fall, the Liberals expressed concern that the current fines weren’t sufficient, given that there have been 235,000 charges laid in the last three years.
Fines for distracted driving were raised in March to $280, including surcharges, from $155. But unlike other provinces, there are no demerit points attached.
All provinces and territories, save Nunavut, ban drivers from using cellphones while driving, according to the Canadian Automobile Association. Fines range from $100 to $400. Six provinces and two territories also include demerit points among the penalties.