Tougher penalties for distracted drivers in B.C.

New measures begin this month to combat distracted driving in the province

The Province of B.C. along with ICBC are rolling out tougher penalties for distracted drivers beginning this month, alongside a province-wide blitz today by local law enforcement.

ICBC defines distracted driving as anything that impacts a driver’s ability to focus on the road and is one of the top contributing factors in police-reported injury crashes in B.C. They point to a 2010 report from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that states electronic device use is the most common distraction that drivers engage in behind the wheel.

“Distracted driving endangers the lives of British Columbians with devastating effects for families and communities,” said Attorney General David Eby.

“It also puts significant pressure on insurance rates. Improving road safety is key to creating a sustainable auto insurance system with more affordable rates for B.C. families. We must see cultural shift that sees distracted drivers put down their cell phones and drive.”

ICBC’s Driver Risk Premium (DRP) program, that also started March 1, will include convictions for distracted drivers who continue to use electronic devices while driving. Those drivers with two convictions over a three year period for using their phones or other electronic devices will also face higher premiums and could pay as much as $2,000 in penalties.

RELATED: B.C. to hike distracted driving penalties by $740

Two other pilot projects are also underway, exploring how technology can help combat distracted driving in the province. ICBC is working with 139 volunteer drivers on a three-month pilot about their experience with a small telematics device installed in their vehicle that blocks the use of their handheld phone while driving.

This month police will also begin testing new telescopes used to catch distracted drivers and other dangerous driving activity. The units will be tested for usability and effectiveness in all weather and traffic conditions.

RELATED: ICBC tests distracted driving prevention technology

“Since 2010, police have issued more than 300,000 tickets for electronic device use, which tells us that distracted and inattentive driving continues to be an ongoing issue on B.C. roads,” said Davis Wendell, officer in charge of E Division Traffic Services.

“In fact, police report that driver distraction and inattention is the leading contributing factor in injury crashes in B.C. And those are all preventable incidents. While driving, there’s no task more important than the one right in front of you – leave all distractions out of driving.”

Police data released by ICBC between for the period between 2012 and 2016 show dozens of people are killed each year by distracted driving. This data includes situations where one or more vehicles involved had contributing factors including use of communication/video equipment, driver inattentive and driver internal/external distraction:

  • Every year, on average, 27 people are killed in distracted driving-related crashes in the Lower Mainland
  • Every year, on average, 9 people are killed in distracted driving-related crashes on Vancouver Island
  • Every year, on average, 30 people are killed in distracted driving-related crashes in the Southern Interior
  • Every year, on average, 13 people are killed in distracted driving-related crashes in the North Central region

Cellphone related fatalities

While the number of distracted driving-related deaths remain high, there is mixed agreement with how cellphones affect the numbers.

Acumen Law Corporation announced earlier this year that statistics obtained from the BC Coroners Service only show 14 fatalities between 2008 and 2016 due to drivers using an electronic device.

“Thousands if not tens of thousands of electronic device tickets have been served across Vancouver Island, yet there hasn’t been a single traffic fatality in nearly a decade due to drivers using electronic devices,” said Acumen Law Corporation lawyer Sacha Roudette.

“We are very concerned that the government has misled the public and cast an overly wide net based on inadequate data that results in serious consequences for drivers. I am aware of many cases where drivers who received tickets lost their jobs as a result.”

Statistics from the BC Coroners Service were obtained via a freedom of information request and were backed up by a former traffic cop with the West Vancouver Police Department.

“I spent many years in traffic between 1995 and 2017. In that 22-year span, the amount of collisions I attended that was a direct result of use of a cellphone was one, and it didn’t even result in an injury,” said Cpl. Grant Gottgetreu of the statistics.

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