By Graeme McNaughton/The Oshawa Express
Long weekends often bring with them heavier traffic, therefore leading to traffic jams, longer driving times and for many, a frustrating time in the car.
However, for provincial police, this past long weekend was one they do not want to see repeat itself.
According to a news release from Ontario Provincial Police, the Labour Day weekend was the deadliest seen by the provincial force in decades.
In all, there were 12 road fatalities, one marine fatality and one off-road vehicle death – making this the most deaths seen over the Labour Day long weekend in OPP jurisdictions in the past 20 years.
The deaths came on the same weekend that the force was launching its distracted driving campaign, with the aim of getting drivers to put down their phones when they are behind the wheel. Over the course of three days, more than 800 tickets were given out by officers.
Despite being on the books for a few years now, Sgt. Kerry Schmidt of the OPP’s Highway Safety Division says officers are still finding drivers everyday who cannot put down their phones, thereby putting other people at risk.
“The penalties have increased over the past couple of years, yet we still see drivers using their phones every single day. It’s one of those things that we want to make socially unacceptable,” Schmidt tells The Oshawa Express.
“We want drivers to realize that they’re putting themselves and their passengers and the rest of the road users around them at risk when they pick up that phone and start looking at it because they’re not looking at the road and what’s coming up in front of them.”
In Ontario, fully licensed drivers can receive a fine of up to $1,000 and three demerit points if convicted of distract driving. Novice drivers – those holding a G1, G2, M1 or M2 licence – face stiffer penalties, with a first conviction seeing a 30-day licence suspension, a 90-day licence suspension for a second offence and a full licence cancellation for a third.
In any case, if the driver endangers others because of distracted driving, he or she can also be charged with careless driving, which brings with it six demerit points, fines of up to $2,000 and/or six months in jail, and a two-year licence suspension. Drivers can also be charged with dangerous driving in the most extreme cases, with jail terms of up to 10 years for causing bodily harm and up to 14 years for causing death.
Schmidt says that in order for things to change, drivers and passengers alike need to take a look at what distracted driving can lead to.
“We still need to do a lot work in changing public behaviour and public attitude around it. Everyone thinks that they’re able to drive and text at the same time, but the simple truth is when you’re not looking at the road, you can’t respond to it and you can’t react to any emergencies,” he says.
“We need to make it socially unacceptable and for everyone to do their part to use their circle of influence for those loved ones around them and remind them you will not get in a vehicle when the driver is distracted, and make it so uncool so that drivers will change their behaviour.”