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Tougher rules ahead for young drivers

Toronto Star, November 17, 2008, Brett Popplewell, Staff Reporter

The Ontario government is expected to introduce tough new legislation tomorrow that will further restrict the privileges of young drivers.

The move comes after a long lobbying campaign, led by Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) and Tim Mulcahy, the father of one of the three young people killed in a drunk-driving accident in Muskoka on July 3.

New measures affecting young new drivers are expected to include:

  • A total ban on alcohol consumption
  • A ban on more than one teenage passenger
  • Zero tolerance for speeders - one ticket and they're off the road.

"We've been advocating this for a long time," said Carolyn Swinson, Toronto spokeswoman for MADD.

"Manitoba has already brought that in - it's already zero blood alcohol for drivers up to the age of 21 and for the first five years for new drivers.

"We've been asking Ontario to follow suit for a while."

In Ontario's current graduated licensing system - introduced in 1994 - young drivers can obtain a full driver's licence after just two years of driving experience, making it legal for them to drive after having a drink, and placing them on the standard demerit point system for speeding and other moving infractions.

Mulcahy began echoing MADD's calls for action shortly after his son's death when he learned that his son had a history of speeding and that alcohol had been a factor in his deadly car crash.

On July 3, Tyler Mulcahy, 20, his girlfriend Nastasia Inez Elzinga, 19, and friends Kourosh Totonchian, 19, and Cory Mintz, 20, spent the afternoon drinking 31 drinks over a three-hour period at a restaurant in Port Carling.

They left that evening in Mulcahy's Audi, but they never made it home.

Tyler Mulcahy was driving when he crashed the car into the Joseph River.

Only Elzinga escaped the sinking car with her life.

His son's death launched Mulcahy on a crusade to change the laws that bind young drivers in the province, to stop other youth from following his son's fatal journey.

First he began a petition for a revamping of the laws.

Then he began taking out full-page ads in the Star and other local newspapers that urged the province to revoke the licences of those under the age of 21 should they be caught speeding or driving with any alcohol in their system.

"Dear Mr. McGuinty, my son is dead," the ads began.

"It is not your fault, but you can make a difference and reduce future suffering."

It was enough to earn him a private meeting with the premier and, according to a note posted to his blog last Thursday, the drive produced results.

"Mr. McGuinty called me this morning and told me that both laws are being introduced into the legislature on Tuesday," Mulcahy wrote last week.

"I could not believe my ears and wept with Mr. McGuinty on the phone. If these bills are passed, Ontario will be the safest jurisdiction for young drivers in the world."

A spokesperson for the ministry of transportation could not be reached for comment.

Mulcahy wasn't available for comment yesterday, but in August he told the Star: "I'd like Tyler's accident to make a difference.

"I really feel there needs to be zero tolerance for alcohol up to the age of 21. Once someone takes one drink, it's easy to take two, three, four or 10 because we stop thinking," he added.

"I feel that speeding is at least as much of an issue as drinking and driving. If there was a zero tolerance for speeding and the licence was revoked for one speeding incident, then word would quickly get around that you can't speed and (keep) your licence.

"I want the law changed immediately so that I don't have to worry as much when my daughters are out partying and driving around in vehicles."