08/30/2013 06:27 EDT | Updated 10/30/2013 05:12 EDT

Saskatchewan MLAs on traffic committee call for stiffer road rules

REGINA - A Saskatchewan committee on traffic safety says repeat offenders who talk on cellphones while driving should lose their vehicles for a week.

Saskatchewan Party MLA Darryl Hickie has tabled a report from the all-party committee with 26 recommendations for the government.

The recommendations include stiffer fines and penalties for impaired drivers — including impounding vehicles for first-time offenders with a blood alcohol level of .08 or more.

They also suggest as many as 120 new police officers be funded by Saskatchewan Government Insurance to focus on fighting impaired driving.

A zero-tolerance policy is suggested for people 19 and younger when it comes to drug and alcohol use while driving.

The report also recommends drug-impaired drivers be punished the same way as drunk drivers.

"The rate of impaired driving fatalities in Saskatchewan is 9.76 deaths per 100,000, which is the highest rate per capita in Canada and more than three times the national average," the report states.

"The victims of these accidents are disproportionately teenagers and young adults."

NDP members on the committee issued a minority opinion that states it should have adopted guidelines similar to Alberta and British Columbia for seizing vehicles of impaired drivers whose blood alcohol level is .05.

They said evidence shows that drivers caught with a lower blood alcohol content and issued a short-term suspension are almost eight times more likely than the average driver to be charged with impaired driving under the Criminal Code within two years.

"Unlike a suspension, an impoundment is harder to hide. It can be embarrassing and, in the short term, it complicates the work and life logistics of the impaired driver," the minority opinion reads.

"This 'warning range' group of drivers is at high risk for dangerous offences."

The committee also recommends adding the word "holding" to legislation that bans talking on hand-held electronic devices while at the wheel.

Hickie had noted earlier that there was a grey area in the law which he said allowed drivers to hold their phones and claim they weren't actually using them.