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The province’s proposed crackdown on distracted drivers is “a little soft,” and dances around a serious issue that calls for much tougher penalties, the president of CAA Manitoba says.

“We’ll be back here, having another scrum that someone got killed,” Mike Mager said Monday in an interview at the Manitoba legislature, after Infrastructure Minister Ron Schuler finished tabling the Drivers and Vehicles Amendment and Highway Traffic Act.

Bill 17 would impose a three-day roadside suspension for a first incident, and a seven-day roadside suspension for second and subsequent incidents, should a driver be caught using a hand-operated electronic device.

NDP procedural delays Friday had earlier prevented Schuler from making all details of the bill public.

There are further provisions about vehicles being towed and drivers having to pay a reinstatement fee — to be set by regulation — and police will issue the driver a temporary 24-hour licence, so he or she can drive the vehicle home before a suspension starts.

“Is it enough? I certainly hope so,” Mager said. “Let’s give it a chance.”

Nevertheless, the Manitoba CAA head said, the province had a chance to get much tougher on an issue linked to 11,086 accidents in 2016 (up from 2,415 in 2011).

Those are accidents, not just incidents in which drivers were caught using distracting devices while driving, Mager said.

“They’re being a little soft,” he said. “We can’t keep dancing around this.”

Mager also said Schuler could have imposed an immediate suspension, without a temporary chance to drive home. There could have been stiffer penalties, including fines, and there could even have been a provision for jail time. “Take away the phone — that would send a message.”

On Monday, Schuler repeated his comments last week about distracted driving including thing such as grooming a dog, putting on makeup, eating, reading a book, and other activities.

However, he didn’t write them into the legislation — though, Schuler noted, they can be cited as evidence in a careless driving charge.

Bill 17 covers all electronic devices except CB radios, the minister said.

Winnipeg Police Service Chief Danny Smyth said Monday when he drives in rush hour, “Every day, I see somebody using their device.”

“We’ll have resources out in the day and evening” to enforce the legislation, Smyth said, also acknowledging the province could have gone further. “If this doesn’t work, perhaps they’ll take another look at it.” Winnipegfreepress

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