By Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Thursday, February 27, 2014
Distracted driving fines increase to $280 on March 18
The Insurance Bureau of Canada says drivers talking on the phone or texting now cause more deaths on Ontario roads than drunk drivers.
Fines for distracted driving are set to nearly double next month, but you can’t blame the government for this one.
The decision to increase the fine for driving while using a hand-held device — such as a cellphone or MP3 player — to $280 from $155 starting March 18 comes courtesy of Annemarie Bonkalo, chief justice of the Ontario Court of Justice.
Bonkalo was not asked to rule on the issue, nor did she provide detailed reasons for her decision, but with the simple stroke of a pen, she has made distracted driving an even more unattractive option.
The Feb. 18 judicial order appears to have come out of nowhere. It is perfectly within Bonkalo’s statutory authority, say her office and the province, but it comes at a time when the minority Liberals are already promising to introduce a package of distracted driver changes, including possibly demerit points.
Bonkalo’s order represents the first time the fine has been changed since legislation was enacted in 2009.
The Transportation ministry confirmed it did not ask Bonkalo for the increase but its minister, Glen Murray, nonetheless told reporters Tuesday he was pleased with her decision, saying it fits in with the government’s overall efforts to crack down on distracted driving.
Progressive Conservative transportation critic Jeff Yurek sees things differently. He said the judge may have been frustrated with the government dragging its feet on the issue, noting it has failed to push through a private member’s bill from one of its own MPPs that would dramatically increase distracted driving fines and add demerit points.
“I think it speaks to a lack of initiative this government is showing,” Yurek said.
He said it was certainly a concern that a judge can increase a fine without it first being debated among elected officials in the legislature, but Bonkalo “was probably frustrated that this government has not acted on this issue that is killing Ontarians.” (Source: Toronto Star)