Province looking at stiffer distracted driving penalties

Opportunity for public feedback through online survey as politicians look at tweaking legislation.

Distracted driving has risen to become just as dangerous as driving while impaired, and now the province is looking at increasing driving penalties for the offence.

The province is doing a public consultation to see if the current penalty—a $167 fine and three penalty points—are enough to deter the behaviour.

The consultation asks questions such as:

• Should drivers caught texting face greater sanctions than those talking on a hand-held device?

• Should new drivers or repeat offenders face greater penalties?

• Should sanctions such as prohibitions and vehicle impoundments be considered?

Under the definition of using of an electronic device, there is a complete ban on a driver who is holding, operating, communicating, or watching the screen of a hand-held electronic communication device, including devices that process or compute data.

When distracted driving legislation was first introduced five years ago, there was only the $167 fine, with the addition of penalty points made last fall.

Penalties vary from province to province.

In Nova Scotia, the maximum fine amount is $579, while Ontario’s is $500. Ontario has recently passed legislation to change the maximum fine amount to $1,000.

“This is a chance for British Columbians to tell us their thoughts on distracted driving sanctions and how they would stop this dangerous behaviour. We’ve heard the calls that people want more protection from distracted drivers and we agree there’s more work to be done,” said Suzanne Anton, the B.C. Attorney General and Minister of Justice. “We took a first step and increased the penalties last fall and now we’re looking at possible changes to the legislation, including more severe penalties. We want to ensure these are set at a level that is fair and effectively changes behaviour. Add your voice and help make B.C.’s roads the safest in North America by 2020.”

In 2014, police issued approximately 55,100 tickets to drivers who were caught using an electronic device behind the wheel while 53,000 were issued in 2013. An estimated 9,500 drivers in B.C. are using a hand-held electronic device at any given time, and 40 per cent of them are texting or emailing while driving.

Texting or using a smartphone while driving is more distracting than talking on one – the crash risk is 23 times higher for drivers who text.

“We know some drivers still aren’t getting the message that no call or text is worth risking your life,” said Steve Crombie, ICBC vice president of corporate and stakeholder governance. “Engaging with drivers across B.C. is an important step in addressing this serious issue and making our roads safer for everyone.”

To participate in the public consultation, visit http://engage.gov.bc.ca/distracteddriving