Bill 17–The Drivers and Vehicles Amendment and Highway Traffic Amendment Act - suspension of driver's licenses for distracted driving
Thursday May 31, I spoke in the Manitoba Legislature at 3rd reading on Bill 17 which will put in place license suspensions for distracted driving and make careless driving a reportable offence. My comments (from Hansard) are below.
Hon. Jon Gerrard (River Heights): Madam Speaker, the statistics in terms of the increase in accidents where there is evidence that there's a distractive driver are certainly concerning. And I think we are all concerned, in particular, about young people who are texting, but [also] anybody at any age who is texting or using a cellphone and being distracted. There appears to be something about using a cellphone which kind of grabs onto your brain and so that your brain is not paying attention as much to driving as it needs to be. And, clearly, this is something which needs to be addressed.
That being said, there are real concerns with the way this legislation is put forward. It is, in my view, fundamentally wrong to punish somebody with a three-day driver suspension before they've actually been found guilty. We don't oppose the three-day driver suspension, but we believe that this should be taken to a court and [a person] found guilty before having the car and the licence taken away.
Scott Newman has–who's a defence lawyer, has talked about this. And he talks about the fact that when you're pulling somebody over for alcohol and you do a breathalyzer test or police do a breathalyzer test, they can actually have an accurate measure that somebody has got too high a level of alcohol. When you're pulling somebody over for using a cellphone, that's an observation over a few seconds, usually, as the cars are moving by. And there clearly are instances where there can be mistakes made.
And we believe strongly that instead of doing it as this bill is proposing, what should have been done was to have a court decision and then have the suspension so that you're not punishing people before they're actually shown to be guilty.
There is also a major issue with the issue of careless driving and making careless driving a reportable offence, so that once you have a careless driving mark, there will be reported charges to Manitoba Public Insurance. This will rapidly invoke driver improvement and control measures and may end up with the cost of your licence going up significantly. And yet we hear from Mr. Eastoe, and he's an individual who has had 12 years as a police officer, and he's had 27 years working as a traffic court agent. I mean, if anybody should know this area, he should. He's probably the most expert person, in fact, in–likely in Winnipeg, maybe in Manitoba.
And he says about 40 per cent, maybe even more, I would suggest–this is what he says–"I would suggest probably 50 per cent of the careless driving charges are laid inappropriately." And when we had the briefing to lay this out, we were told by the minister that if somebody was drinking coffee or drinking tea while driving, that was careless driving.
Now, I mean, I think that, particularly for somebody who is driving long distances or driving at night, that actually having a cup of coffee is useful in keeping you awake and alert, and I suspect that it cuts down on accidents instead of increasing them. So I think we have to be very cautious about what the real evidence is here before jumping too far.
Now, with that cautionary note, and I will add one more, and this is from Justice Murray Sinclair, Senator Murray Sinclair now. He talked with concern about what happens to him in terms of racial profiling, that he's much more likely to be pulled over by police officers than other senators in the Chamber.
And I think that–and I would hope that the minister, in his efforts, will make a major, major educational attempt and a major effort to make sure that racial profiling in Manitoba stops. This needs to be part of this whole effort, because if people are going to be picked out for careless driving, if they're going to have their licence suspended without having a chance to talk in court and to make their case, then we have to make sure that this is not used in a way that would be racially profiling people, that there is some fairness and equity in this and that people like Senator Murray Sinclair are not more likely to be picked up than other people.
So some major cautions with this legislation, some major concerns. We will, for the sake of safety, support this legislation, but there's some big issues here and we're going to be watching this government and watching what happens very, very closely. And if there's problems we'll be here in this Legislature holding this government to account for those problems.