POLITICS

Manitoba government proposes harsher penalties for drivers who drink or text

06/04/2015 03:54 EDT | Updated 06/04/2016 05:59 EDT
WINNIPEG - The Manitoba government is bringing in stiffer penalties for people who drive while impaired or while using a cellphone.

Drivers found to be talking or texting on hand-held mobile phones will be dinged five demerit points — up from the current two — starting July 1.

The move will force convicted drivers to pay up to several hundred more dollars each year for vehicle registration and insurance. The exact amount will depend on how many demerit points the driver has already.

The Canadian Automobile Association welcomed the move.

"We would love to see talking on your phone or texting (while driving) as being a socially unacceptable behaviour," association spokesman Mike Mager said.

"We're not there yet. Ninety per cent of our members just recently surveyed said that they regularly see — every day — somebody talking on their phone."

The province is also proposing a crackdown on impaired driving.

A bill introduced in the legislature Thursday would increase the automatic licence suspension given to drivers with a blood-alcohol level of between .05 and .08. The current 24-hour suspension would be increased to 72 hours and would stretch to a week if a child under 16 were in the vehicle.

Justice Minister Gord Mackintosh said impaired-driving rates have dropped, but are still not low enough.

"An appalling one-in-three fatal collisions on Manitoba's roads involves drivers who have been drinking," he said.

The proposed legislation also looks to remove a loophole that currently allows some people convicted of impaired driving to avoid having breathalyzers installed on their vehicle's ignition.

The bill contains other minor changes, including a requirement for police officers to notify the motor vehicle registry when someone was convicted of a serious offence. The change would allow officials at the registry to immediately suspend a licence or take other action.