McGuinty hints Ontario may back off restrictions for teen drivers
The Canadian Press
Published Wednesday, November 26, 2008 2:27PM EST
TORONTO - Ontario may be willing to back off from a proposed regulation that would restrict teen drivers to just one teenage passenger in a car, Premier Dalton McGuinty suggested Wednesday after an online protest against the new rules grew to more than 117,000 members.
The protest group was set up on Facebook last week after the Liberal government announced a package of reforms aimed at young drivers, including a zero blood-alcohol limit for all drivers 21 and under and licence suspensions for those caught speeding.
Most of the objections are to the new limits on teen passengers for drivers with a G2 graduated licence, something McGuinty admitted he's also been hearing from backbench Liberals. The government may not have got everything correct when it drafted the new legislation, McGuinty added.
"Everything we do we try to do the best that we can by way of an initiative, but governments never, ever do everything perfectly," he said when asked directly if he was prepared to ease the teen passenger restrictions.
"If there are folks out there who can give us good ideas that enable us to strengthen and improve the quality of our legislation, then we are all ears."
The government said statistics show young people with other teens in the car are three times more likely to get in an accident. That logic that was questioned on Facebook by Jim Bergen, a student at Brock University in St. Catharines.
"They say we're the most likely to be involved in accidents, so they throw more of us on the road by taking away carpooling," Bergen posted.
Shannon Ramey, a high school student in London, Ont., warned that eliminating carpooling by teens would mean fewer designated drivers, and a likely increase in drinking and driving by young people.
"They mean well, but they need to look at it at all angles," Ramey posted. "I totally disagree with the carpool rules. Drunk driving should never be tolerated, but they need to come up with a better plan."
The opposition parties said the government was obviously caught off guard by the "overwhelming" negative reaction to the proposed new rules for young drivers, especially from young people themselves.
"The McGuinty government understands there's not much support across Ontario for this, and they should have understood that before they set out to restrict young people like that," said NDP Leader Howard Hampton.
"The whole idea of restricting young drivers to only one other teen passenger in the car just doesn't hold water, especially once you get outside large cities where public transit is not available."
The Progressive Conservatives said McGuinty is ready to back down because the government is being swamped with complaints in addition to the huge Facebook protest.
"They're certainly getting a lot of heat, and I think the (government) backbenchers are feeling the heat as well," said Opposition Leader Bob Runciman. "I'm not surprised that they're going to look at the passenger component" of the legislation.
McGuinty said his government has inadvertently engaged young people in an important debate, and he wants to make sure they stay engaged.
"They seem to have pulled away from politics in some ways, but I think we've got their attention unwittingly -- this was never our purpose, obviously -- but they've become engaged so I'd like to find a way to listen to them."
The premier also admitted the Liberals had been hasty in banning access to Facebook from Ontario government computers, but stopped short of saying all civil servants will be able to visit the social networking site.
"We may have been a bit precipitous in completely cutting ourselves off from that new tool," he said.
"We're going to find a way to speak to young people, and more importantly have them speak to us through Facebook."