Jul 10, 2008 04:30 AM
The Ontario government will consider new restrictions on young drivers, Transportation Minister Jim Bradley said yesterday.
"We're moving in the direction of change," Bradley said in an interview six days after a Muskoka accident killed three people age 20 or younger and renewed debate about the effectiveness of Ontario's graduated licensing system.
The system is one of Canada's most stringent. After it was implemented in 1994, collision rates for young drivers dropped substantially. Mothers Against Drunk Driving and the Insurance Bureau of Canada call it one of the country's "top three" licensing systems.
But they, and others, have lobbied for more regulations. In meetings with the Liberal government as recent as three weeks ago, MADD Canada CEO Andrew Murie said, "nobody's disagreed" with the new measures his group is proposing – including a blood-alcohol limit of zero for all drivers under 21, a rule requiring young drivers to turn cellphones off and place them out of reach, and restrictions on the number of young passengers that drivers with G2 licences may carry.
Bradley did not say what specific changes the Liberals might make, nor when they might make them.
"Even though ... our figures will show that we are the second safest in the North American jurisdiction, next only to the Northwest Territories, and we keep improving ... we're always trying to strive to bring the numbers down even further," Bradley said.
The apparent push for new rules is not a direct response to the Muskoka accident, in which two Toronto 20-year-olds and a 19-year-old were killed when their car went off the road and into a river. Bradley said the government had been meeting prior to last week with MADD and other "safety partners."
"All of (MADD's proposals) are on the table," Murie said. "There's been no promises made. But it's now a matter of political will."
The implementation of the graduated system in 1994 resulted in an immediate drop in the percentage of young Ontario drivers getting into collisions. In 1993, 15.1 per cent of 16-year-old drivers had accidents; 2 per cent did in 2005, the last year for which figures are available. Where 9.1 per cent of 20-year-old drivers had accidents in 1993, 6.2 per cent did in 2005.
"We think the Ontario system is amongst the best in the country," said Insurance Bureau of Canada spokesperson James Geuzebroek. "However, there's always ways to improve."
If implemented, the blood-alcohol proposal would affect drivers age 19 and 20 who have G licences.
Under current law, people with G1 and G2 licenses may not drive with alcohol in their systems. But people with G licences who are over the legal drinking age of 19 can have a blood-alcohol limit of up to 0.08.
And current law restricts the number of passengers G2 drivers can carry, but only between midnight and 5 a.m.
The late driver of the Audi that crashed last Thursday, Tyler Mulcahy, 20, was travelling with three friends, two of whom also died.
Mulcahy had six demerit points. At six points, G2 drivers may have to go to an interview with a "driver improvement counsellor" to discuss their driving records and give reason why their licences should not be suspended.
It is not clear whether Mulcahy was called in for an interview – or that he had a G2. G drivers face interviews at nine points. Transportation ministry spokesperson Bob Nichols said he could not talk about the records of specific individuals.
In 2007, about 14,900 Ontario drivers were interviewed out of 19,900 people eligible, Nichols said.
To determine whether interviewees' licences should be suspended, he said, MTO counsellors consider their driving records, their attitude toward that record, their "willingness to take responsibility for actions and improve habits," and the "overall tone of the interview."
Murie said subjective interview systems like Ontario's are inferior to laws that guarantee specific penalties for specific violations.
Conservative transportation critic Frank Klees said his party would support restrictions proposed by MADD and other groups.
But, he said, the Liberals have failed to give police and the courts enough money to effectively enforce existing driving laws, let alone new ones.
Commentary by the Ottawa Mens Centre