Sending that text while driving is about to get more expensive.
The province will be putting some more teeth behind its distracted driving laws starting March 18. Motorists charged with using a cell phone or similar electronic device while driving after that date will receive a fine of $280, which is up from the current fine of $155.
Thunder Bay Police Service traffic Sgt. Glenn Porter says the dangers associated with distracted driving rivals that of impaired driving, speeding and improper use of seatbelts as some of the most significant issues police face with vehicular safety.
“Over the course of the last couple of years the police have been putting out a message to the public that this is a dangerous thing,” Porter said on Tuesday. “It’s one of the top four concerns we have as enforcement agencies and I think the public are listening to that and agree this is a serious problem.”
According to data provided by the OPP, distracted driving is cited as a factor in 30 to 50 per cent of collisions, though they estimate that number is likely higher.
Over the past year city police have used their creativity to combat distracted driving.
Officers took part in numerous sting operations, one of which included partnering with railroad police posed as construction workers on the James Street Swing Bridge this past summer and fall.
One of the bridge operations resulted in 15 tickets for using a phone, while another operation that utilized the vantage point of a Thunder Bay Transit bus led to another 11 charges.
Porter said police are forced to get creative with their enforcement blitzes because distracted driving charges are difficult to prove.
“It’s a real challenge for police. We have to present evidence to court that says we saw the person use a device while driving,” he said.
“The first thing they do when they see a marked police car is drop the phone or take it away from their ear, but we know it’s still going on. I think what this change in the penalty is going to do is make the efforts the police are doing a little more significant.”
The use of hands-free devices remains legal.