I recently wrote an article about Cell Phones and Driving in Manitoba and already I need to update the information. The Province of Manitoba just announced new consequences for distracted drivers, which includes using cell phones, and impaired drivers. Take note, because starting on July 1st, the new consequences come into effect.
Right now if the police catch you using a cell phone (and remember, just looking at the devices screen counts as using it), you face a $200 fine and 2 demerits. The new law will see you face 5 demerits. You can typically only earn 1 merit per year of good driving, so checking a text message or answering one phone call would result in you paying the consequences for the next 5 years. If you want to see what the actual costs are for you licence, you can check out MPI's Driver Safety Scale by clicking here.
Overall, I'm not sure if increasing the consequences will have the intended effect. I think there is still a problem where many people think it is okay to check a quick text message, reply to an email, or answer a call while in their cars. If you break it down, it is really a trained behaviour. How many times have you checked your phone with absolutely no negative consequences? Probably quite a few, if not all of them. The problem remains that it takes only one time to strike another car or a pedestrian, which can result in horrific consequences. I am curious to see if there are ways we could set up natural consequences of using your phone while driving that would happen more regularly, instead of only when the police pull you over and give you a ticket. If you have any ideas, please add a comment below.
Another change to driving laws is that it will now be MANDATORY for drivers convicted of an impaired driving related offence (like impaired driving, driving over 80, or refusing to provide a sample) to participate in the Ignition Interlock Program. Click here if you want to read the brochure. If you're convicted for a drive impaired offence, the judge will sentence you a driving prohibition where it is a criminal offence if you drive in that time period. After the judge's prohibition ends, you still need to get a valid licence from the Motor Vehicles Branch - which is Manitoba Public Insurance (MPI) here in Manitoba.
Currently, you can either wait an additional year OR register for the Ignition Interlock Program. Basically, you have to install a breath machine in your vehicle so that it will not start unless you blow a clean breath sample. The cost of the program is an estimated $2,100 per year. The new law is eliminating that choice and starting July 1st MPI will only give you a valid licence if you register for the program. In other words, you can no longer just wait it out.
Personally, I think the consequences for impaired driving are pretty serious. The problem is that most people don't know what they are. I think the general public knows it is wrong and illegal to drink and drive, but most have no clue what can happen to them if they do. That's why I think increasing penalties to try and change behaviour is not always the most effective. What would be effective is to increase the public's awareness about the consequences they could face in addition to increasing roadside check stops and publicly advertising how the police are on the lookout for impaired drivers. My idea is based on what scientific research has been able to tell us. Studies in the United states compared states that had severe consequences to ones that had less severe consequences for impaired driving. The study revealed that increasing the severity of penalties for drunk driving is not related, by itself, to lower alcohol-related motor vehicle fatalities. However, increasing the certainty of being caught for drunk driving, by utilizing check stops and testing all drivers, is associated with lower alcohol-related accidents (Evans, Neville, & Graham, 1991; Stuster & Blowers, 1995; Voas, Holder, & Gruenewald, 1999). It is really the increase in the certainty of being caught that changes our behaviour.
- Drive impaired related offences (MichaelDyck.ca)
- What is the ignition interlock program (TomRees.ca)
- Common questions about driving impaired charges and DUIs (TomRees.ca)
About the author
Michael Dyck is a partner at Rees & Dyck Criminal Defence. He represents clients primarily from Winnipeg, Steinbach, and rural Manitoba. He has extensive experience helping people charged with criminal offences and focuses on building legal strategy with clients. To read more of his articles, please visit his partner's website TomRees.ca.