REGINA - On the same day that Saskatchewan geared up for a safe-driving campaign, Agriculture Minister Lyle Stewart acknowledged that he was caught reading a text behind the wheel.
A red-faced Stewart said he was nabbed after leaving the legislature in Regina on Monday and fined $280.
"I received a text, which I don't normally do, but I was expecting a fairly important message, work-related. In this case, I left my phone on and when it buzzed I read the text, and pretty soon after that the blue lights came on and I knew I'd been busted," Stewart said Thursday.
"I didn't return it. I was going to wait until I stopped to do that, but I did read it, and so I think that makes me guilty and I sure wasn't going to say otherwise."
Legislation banning the use of hand-held cellphones while driving became law Jan. 1, 2010, in Saskatchewan. That means it's illegal to use a hand-held cellphone to talk, text, email or surf the Internet while driving, although experienced drivers can use hands-free devices.
"I won't be doing it again and I hope that others will learn from my embarrassment over this. I guess the good news is that there's enforcement and it's working," Stewart said.
Numbers from Saskatchewan Government Insurance show there were more than 7,500 collisions related to distracted driving in 2012 that cost 69 people their lives and caused 2,503 injuries. Distracted driving includes not just texting, but also eating, applying makeup or reading.
Reducing the number of deaths and injuries is part of the reason the province launched a new road-safety challenge Thursday.
The minister responsible for SGI, Donna Harpauer, said the target is a 10 per cent reduction in deaths and injuries by the August long weekend in 2015 and a 20 per cent decrease two years after that.
"Changes could include volunteering to be the designated driver, always wearing a seatbelt, easing off the gas pedal and putting down the distractions like cellphones while driving," she said.
"Small changes can have a big impact."
As well, starting June 27, drivers caught using their cellphones while driving for the second time within one year will have their vehicles seized for up to seven days.
Troy Hagen, president of the Saskatchewan Association of Chiefs of Police, said it's about shifting attitudes and habits, especially towards distracted driving.
"Most people are fully alive to the fact that it's illegal," he said.
"There's a few factors in play, one being they believe the risk of being apprehended and held responsible ... (is) minimal. Another ... (is the) lack of information pertaining to the consequences.
"We see the statistics where (distracted driving is) almost mirroring or overtaking impaired driving for the number of cause of death on our highways.
"I think that's relatively new to a lot of people. I really do. I don't think a lot people fully understand or comprehend the seriousness and the potential very serious and too often tragic circumstances and outcomes of behaving in a manner of distracted driving."
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