Subtext of MPP’s bill is to keep pedestrians’ heads up
Legislation would prevent use of phones, electronic devices when crossing the street
Acurb on texting and walking may be an idea whose time has come, says Premier Kathleen Wynne.
With Liberal MPP Yvan Baker introducing a private member’s bill Monday to prevent pedestrians from using phones or other electronic devices when crossing the street, the premier suggested it could be a part of evolving road safety laws.
“Twenty years ago, nobody was walking around with a phone. And, so, now, we’ve got these machines and I think that we need . . . to push ourselves to make sure that we have a safe culture around them,” Wynne told reporters.
“We are looking at a culture shift,” she said at a campaign-style stop at The Irv gastro-pub in Cabbagetown, where she was promoting the Liberal government’s labour reforms.
Asked if there isn’t a danger of Ontario becoming a nanny state where Big Brother is watching the everyday behaviour of citizens, Wynne argued that technological changes have always necessitated new laws.
“A hundred years ago, there were no stop signs, and so you probably could have made that argument then. And there were no cellphones 100 years ago,” the premier said.
“So now we’ve got this new technology that is changing behaviour, and so, if it is changing behaviour to the point where people are at risk, just like having cars changed behaviour to the point where people were at risk, then I think we need to look at the laws and say, ‘Do we have enough?’ ” she said.
“I’m not saying that this should be put in place, but I do think it’s an interesting idea.”
Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca emphasized there are no plans to incorporate the proposal into the government’s safety initiatives “at this point in time.”
Last year, Del Duca said, if the city of Toronto wanted to ban texting and walking, it could do so using its municipal authority. New Democrat MPP Cheri DiNovo (Parkdale—High Park), who has long advocated for tougher laws to protect pedestrians and cyclists from distracted drivers, dismissed Baker’s initiative as “a victim-blaming bill.”
“It shows where the government’s heart is; they’re trying to deflect from the fact that we’ve had the worst year — 53 deaths on record — for our pedestrians,” said DiNovo.
Baker (Etobicoke Centre) said his goal with the Phones Down, Heads Up Act is not to underplay the danger of distracted drivers on their phones and other devices. “Toronto is already one of the worst cities in North America when it comes to traffic. With winter quickly approaching, road conditions can make it difficult to stop,” Baker said of legislation that still must be debated and, like most private member’s bills, has little chance of becoming law.
“I would like pedestrians to be aware of the risks of crossing the road while (they are) distracted by phones and other electronic devices. My bill would strengthen road safety by encouraging pedestrians and drivers to keep each other safe.”
Brian Patterson, president and CEO of the Ontario Safety League, said Baker’s bill is “consistent with the evolution of safety in the province of Ontario.
“It focuses on the risky behaviour, allowing for education and enforcement,” said Patterson.
Under the bill, scofflaws would be slapped with a $50 fine on the first offence, increasing to $75 for a second infraction, and $125 on a third and for subsequent violations.
Exceptions would include using a phone to call police, fire services or an ambulance, as well as calls that begin before a pedestrian has started crossing the street.