05/21/2016 12:19 EDT | Updated 05/22/2017 05:12 EDT

Ontario Considers Promoting Safe Texting Zones For Drivers

Provincial police reported that distracted driving was the cause of more deaths on provincial highways than any other factor for the third year in a row.

TORONTO — Ontario is considering the idea of putting signs on highways to alert drivers about upcoming areas where they can safely pull over to text or check their emails.

All three parties voted in favour on second reading of a private member's bill from Progressive Conservative Vic Fedeli to create so-called safe texting zones.

Fedeli says signs on highways would inform drivers about 185 existing areas such as commuter parking lots, transit stations and rest stops where they can safely pull off to use their smart phones or tablets.

He got the idea while driving through Pennsylvania and New York, and saw signs in both states promoting safe texting zones, and says it would not require any new infrastructure.

PC MPP Vic Fedeli said the issue of distracted driving needs an extra nudge. (Photo: CP)

Fedeli says increased fines are not enough to curb distracted driving habits, and believes safe texting zones will save lives and help educate motorists about the dangers of texting behind the wheel.

The Ontario Provincial Police reported in March that distracted driving was the cause of more deaths on provincial highways than any other factor for the third consecutive year, contributing to 69 deaths in 2015.

Fedeli says he's had widespread support from police, insurance companies, the Canadian Automobile Association and the Ontario Safety League for his Safe Texting Zones Act.

"It sends a clear message to distracted drivers that there is no longer any excuse to endanger themselves and those they share the road with,'' said Fedeli. "Their text can wait until the next texting zone.''

Educational role

Ontario stiffened penalties for distracted driving last fall, with a set fine of $490 that a judge could increase to $1,000, plus three demerit points on conviction.

Safe texting zone signs will be especially important in helping educate younger drivers about the dangers of distracted driving, added Fedeli.

"Texting is so popular with young people who are new drivers as well, and this has surpassed drunk driving (as a cause of accidents) and has become so very, very serious that it needs that extra little nudge, that extra reminder that says: 'It can wait,''' he said.

Ontario's distracted driving penalties are a set fine of $490 that can be increased to $1,000, and three demerit points if convicted. (Photo: Getty Images)

New Democrat transport critic Wayne Gates told the legislature that it's not just the younger drivers who text.

"Older people, seniors are doing it, and young people are doing it, and it's putting people at risk,'' said Gates.

Private member's bills rarely become law in Ontario, but Fedeli is confident his will either be passed or be adopted by the Liberal government after members from all sides of the legislature spoke in favour of it.

'It really is a bill that I expect will come into law in Ontario one day,'' he said.

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