British Columbians to have their say on distracted driving penalties

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Vancouver, BC (June 18, 2015) – Are distracted driving laws in B.C. tough enough? Government is considering raising penalties for distracted driving and is now asking British Columbians to offer their input with the launch of a four-week consultation that will run through July 16, 2015.

A new distracted driving public consultation website will collect comments as British Columbians consider whether B.C.’s current fine of $167 and three penalty points is sufficient to deter a behaviour that is now the second-leading contributing factor in motor vehicle deaths on B.C. roads. British Columbians will be able to have their say on questions like:

  • 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?

The consultation marks the next step in government’s efforts to stop distracted driving and enhance safety on B.C. roads. Last fall, B.C. increased the penalty points for using a hand-held electronic device while driving, from zero to three, in addition to the $167 fine.

Penalties vary considerably 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. B.C.’s fine amount of $167 is the second-lowest in Canada.

“This is a chance for British Columbians to tell us their thoughts on distracted driving sanctions and how they would stop this dangerous behaviour,” said Attorney General and Minister of Justice Suzanne Anton. “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.”

To participate, people are encouraged to visit the distracted driving website or tweet @RoadSafetyBC using hashtag #distractedBC.

“We want to see a change in driver behaviour,” said Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Todd Stone. “Distracted driving is the second-highest contributing factor in motor vehicle fatalities in B.C. and we want drivers to understand that talking or texting while driving can have fatal consequences. If you are driving, please leave your phone alone and concentrate on the road.”

Following this consultation, RoadSafetyBC will consider the feedback in its recommendations for any revisions to distracted driving penalties in B.C.

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

B.C. introduced its distracted driving legislation five years ago. The penalties for using an electronic device were increased in October 2014 to a $167 fine and three penalty points.

In 2014, police issued approximately 55,100 tickets to drivers who were caught using an electronic device behind the wheel – in 2013, they issued about 53,000.

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.
  • sending or receiving text messages or email on any type of electronic device.

B.C.’s distracted driving legislation also prohibits drivers in the Graduated Licensing Program from using all hand-held electronic devices, including hands-free.

“Distracted driving is becoming as socially unacceptable as drinking and driving, and for good reasons,” said Drop It And Drive co-founder Tim Baillie. “It’s a growing problem with serious risks for everyone on the road, including those people who have survived a crash, but are now living with lasting injuries ranging from the physical to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder to being hit by a distracted driver. It will be great to see people sharing their own ideas to prevent injuries and save lives.”

An estimated 9,500 drivers in B.C. are using a hand-held electronic device at any given time, and 40% 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.

To learn more, visit RoadSafetyBC online.

SOURCE: B.C. Ministry of Justice