Ontario targets drug-impaired motorists as it revives legislation to crack down on distracted driving
Drugged drivers will face the same sanctions as drunk drivers under proposed legislation aimed at cracking down on distracted drivers in Ontario.
“This sends a clear message to the people who think, ‘I can get high and drive because I can pass a breathalyzer,’ ” Brian Patterson of the Ontario Safety League said Tuesday.
The bill from Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca is an updated version of one tabled in March but not passed before the spring election. It increases penalties for talking or texting on hand-held smart phones, with maximum fines of $1,000 and three demerit points — the toughest in Canada.
As well, the bill outlaws painting any vehicles the same chrome yellow as school buses and would require drivers to wait until pedestrians have finished traversing the street at designated school and pedestrian crossings.
Drivers who “door” cyclists would see penalties rise from the current range of $60 to $500 to between $300 and $1,000 and three demerit points instead of two. And motorists would have to stay one metre away from cyclists “where practicable.”
But the province lagged on dealing with drug-impaired drivers. Del Duca said more than 45 per cent of drivers killed in Ontario in 2011 were found to have drugs or a combination of drugs and alcohol in their system.
“Ontario is one of only three jurisdictions in Canada right now that has no sanctions . . . we thought it was important,” Del Duca told reporters, noting 45 per cent of drivers killed in Ontario in 2011 had drugs or a combination of drugs and alcohol in their systems.
Police officers who have reasonable grounds to suspect drug-impaired driving would be able to issue roadside drivers’ licence suspensions of three, seven, 30 and 90 days — just as they do with alcohol-impaired drivers for first and repeat offences.
“That is probably the most immediate example of what those specially trained officers will be able to do,” Del Duca said of Ontario’s 1,300 front-line police trained in recognizing drug-impaired motorists.
Currently, motorists must be taken to the police station for further evaluation if drug-impaired driving is suspected. That would change if the new legislation is passed.
Authorities could also require educational or substance abuse treatments, order ignition interlocks and seven-day vehicle impoundments.
Del Duca said his ministry is “working very closely” with the RCMP to implement roadside technology to test for drug impairment that would be a similar tool to a breathalyzer, which measures blood alcohol levels.
“Over the next number of months I am optimistic, I am confident we will have technology to provide us and our police officers with that same sense of scientific backup.”
Australia has been among the forefront of countries using such devices, which work by measuring drug levels in saliva, said Patterson of the Ontario Safety League.
“I think we’re getting to the stage where there will be a huge comfort level with this.”
The targeting of drug-impaired drivers was applauded by opposition parties, in addition to tougher penalties for distracted driving in general.
“Whether it’s distracted driving or impairment by alcohol or drugs, the government has a responsibility to make sure they are taking steps,” said Progressive Conservative MPP Michael Harris (Kitchener-Conestoga).
“It is troubling to know there are people like this on our roads.”
New Democrat MPP Joe Cimino (Sudbury) said drug-impaired driving “has to be looked at. It’s as serious as drunk driving.”
While Ontario’s roads consistently rank among the safest in North America, “there is still much more work the province can do and must do,” Del Duca said in announcing “much stiffer fines.”
The legislation comes as distracted driving outpaces impaired driving and speeding as the leading cause of death on the roads.
Ontario Provincial Police said there were 78 distracted driving deaths last year compared to 57 for impaired 44 for speeding.
The OPP laid 19,000 distracted-driving charges in 2013, up from 16,000 the year before.