Ontario to get tougher on young drivers

Jesse DeSchawn McGrady, 18, is not happy with a proposed Ontario law that could affect his nights out with friends.

If passed by the provincial legislature, the new legislation introduced on Nov. 18 would include:

-A limit of only one teenage passenger for drivers between 16 and 19 for the first year of driving
-A zero blood-alcohol limit for drivers aged 21 and under
-Longer suspensions of licences for young drivers leading up to cancellations

It is the one-passenger limit that has a lot of people talking.

Jesse McGrady, 18, is not happy about the Ontario proposed law that aims to toughen driving and drinking laws for young drivers.

“This will hinder all my activities,” says McGrady, who does not leave his Malvern home late at night if he does not have a ride, usually with his two best friends.

When they pick him up, he takes the backseat and the three 18-year-olds go for a night out to the movies or the clubs.

“This is very wrong and we should fight with all our powers to stop this,” the high school student says. “My friend just got his licence and I have none, so where does that leave us?”

The bill is not only getting a backlash from teenagers.

Councillor Paul Ainslie, Ward 43, is not buying it either, believing the laws could do more harm than good.

“Limiting young drivers to one passenger at all times will create more traffic and put more teenage drivers on the road,” Ainslie says. “I remember in school, always having three or four people in the car, whether it was dances, movies, or going out after church youth group for a burger.

“If young drivers have been drinking, more designated drivers are going to be needed,” the councillor adds.

Robert Solomon, 60, national director of legal policy for MADD Canada, says the organization advocated for these restrictions because strong research indicates the risk of a fatal crash increases with each young passenger in the vehicle.

He also says 40- to 60 per cent of accidents among 16- to 24 year olds are alcohol-related.

“Young, inexperienced drivers have difficulty mastering driving in of itself and the more passengers, the higher the crash rate,” Solomon says.

“Also, research is very clear and consistent that jurisdictions which implement zero blood-alcohol level limits for young drivers benefit by significantly reduced […] crash deaths.”

Still, Ainslie would like the laws to apply to all new drivers regardless of age and believes a zero blood-alcohol limit should apply to everyone, whether they have been driving for a year or 20 years.

“The laws target age instead of experience,” says 19-year-old University of Toronto student Darryl Hoving, who holds a class G2 licence. “Also, it undermines the graduated licensing system since new privileges will come with age instead of being earned.”

Ainslie says what the provincial government really needs to do is promote better driver education and incentives for good driving.

“Education alone has not solved the problem and won’t solve the problem,” the legal policy national director of MADD says. “We need education and awareness coupled with policies and practices.”

Edwin Smith, 55, wants the restrictions to be in effect immediately. The Mornelle Court resident says it will put his heart to rest when his 11-year-old daughter, Tamesha Smith, starts driving.

“I won’t have to worry about her being distracted by too many teenagers in the vehicle,” the father says. “The one teenage passenger thing is a smart idea.”

While MADD had been advocating for changes to the drinking and driving laws for quite sometime now, the bill was pushed forward in response to Tim Mulcahy’s campaign after his 20-year-old son, Tyler Mulcahy, and his friends Kourosh Totonchian, 19, and Cory Mintz, 20, were killed in Muskoka while driving under the influence of alcohol.

Manitoba, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia already have legislations that require drivers 21 and under to have blood alcohol levels of zero while driving.