No breaks on distracted driving tickets with new fines in Saskatchewan, police say

For those still a little hazy on distracted driving laws in Saskatchewan, some experts got together in an attempt to clear up some questions about the rules and consequences.

Saskatchewan Government Insurance (SGI) media relations manager Tyler McMurchy said there’s still a lot of conversation about cellphone laws, which haven’t changed since January 2017.

“We’ve gotten these questions (from the public), ‘so I’m not allowed to take a sip of water.’ ‘I can’t drink coffee while I drive’… I drank coffee on the way here. I was eating gas station popcorn on my way to the building, that’s OK because I’m able to do that while focusing on the road,” McMurchy said.

“Your primary attention needs to be on the safe operation of that motor vehicle.”

Motorists can receive a ticket for driving without due care and attention ticket if an officer witnesses behaviour that they can prove took a driver’s attention away from the road to the point they are operating their vehicle in an unsafe manner.

SGI said drivers should safely pull over to the side of the road and park their vehicle if there is a text or call motorists feel the need to address.

Fines for distracted drivers did change, however, in the province on Feb. 1.

The ticket for the first offence more than doubled to $580. A second ticket within a year of being convicted of the first offence is $1,400 while the third went up to $2,100.

“We want to just hopefully calm some of those anxieties that people have about distracted driving… the cost of these tickets — it’s no joke,” McMurchy said.

“Nobody wants to see anybody getting one of these tickets. A $580 ticket will ruin your day, ruin your week maybe and a $1,400 ticket or $2,100 ticket will ruin your month.”

When it comes to cellphones, it’s illegal to hold, view or manipulate it while driving. Only experienced drivers can use hands-free functions on mounted devices through voice commands or one-touch.

Saskatoon Police Service (SPS) Staff Sgt. Nolan Berg said his advice is to remove the temptation.

“If you feel that you’re going to be at risk (with) that phone being in the cupholder… the temptation of just being all too great to grab it for that quick glance and when you do that, that’s when you’re in violation of the law,” he said.

Berg said there’s no one age group that’s cornered the market on violating the cellphone legislation, but noted a common tread among culprits.

“The common thread that we’re hearing from a lot of people is they’ll have an excuse followed by ‘there’s got to be a reason why you couldn’t just let me off with a warning,’” Berg said.

“Because of the severity of the consequences that can arise from distracted driving, we are not in the practice of giving warnings to drivers if they’re caught doing this. We treat this as being something that’s an equivalent of severity to impaired driving and so we take it very seriously.”

“It all takes a second place to safety.”

The second and third offences for distracted driving within a year of the first conviction also carry a week-long vehicle seizure. McMurchy believes there were 91 impoundments in 2019.

“It’s important to note that this one-year lookback window, it doesn’t start Feb. 1 of this year, it goes back to last year,” Berg said.

Distracted driving set three monthly records for the number of tickets issued in 2019, according to SGI.

McMurchy said the goal of the higher fines is to see fewer tickets.

“It’s really meant to disincentivize the behaviour that we’re seeing,” McMurchy said.

“Driving distracted… is one of the most dangerous behaviours you could engage in on the road. It’s right up there with impaired driving when it comes to fatalities.”

February’s traffic safety spotlight has law enforcement in Saskatchewan keeping an eye out for distracted driving.

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