Stiffer fines, impoundments eyed for distracted drivers

Province opens online consultation on how far to go to deter drivers from texting and using cellphones behind the wheel

Are tougher fines needed for drivers who text? The province is asking B.C. residents for feedback on how far to go.

The province is considering stiffer fines and possibly vehicle impoundments or prohibitions to get distracted drivers to put down their cellphones and devices.

Motorists caught using a handheld device face $167 fines and – since last fall – three driver penalty points.

“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,” Justice Minister Suzanne Anton said.

A four-week online consultation period is open until July 16 to gather public opinion on whether tougher measures are needed. Comments are being collected at engage.gov.bc.ca/distracteddriving.

Besides potential vehicle impoundments or driver prohibitions, the site asks if texting drivers should be punished more severely, and possibly new drivers and repeat offenders as well.

Five years after distracted driving fines were introduced in B.C., many drivers continue to ignore the law.

Police issued 55,100 tickets last year to drivers caught using an electronic device behind the wheel – an increase from 53,000 in 2013.

ICBC estimates 9,500 drivers in B.C. are using a hand-held device at any given time and 40 per cent are texting or emailing as they drive.

The B.C. Association of Chiefs of Police supports escalating fines or sanctions, particularly for multiple repeat offenders, said Transit Police Chief Neil Dubord who chairs the chiefs’ traffic committee.

But he said the widespread disregard for the cellphone law makes it difficult to see how officers could impound vehicles – at least on a first offence – without being accused of selective, unfair enforcement.

“The impoundment of vehicles is difficult because of the large numbers,” said Dubord, who is taking over as chief of Delta Police later this month. “When people are speeding at double the limit speed limit a threshold is broken which can then lead to the impounding of the vehicle.”

He said he believes prohibitions should be considered, but only for the worst repeat offenders.

The chiefs’ association doesn’t have a formal position on prohibitions, nor has it adopted the stance that texting is worse than handheld phone calls.

According to research cited by the province, texting or using a smartphone while driving is more distracting than talking on one, resulting in up to 23 times higher crash risk for drivers who text.

Speed and distraction are now the top two factors contributing to crash deaths, ahead of third-ranked alcohol.

B.C.’s distracted driving fines are the second-lowest in Canada. Nova Scotia has the highest, climbing from $234 to $579 on the third offence, and Ontario is about to double its maximum fine from $500 to $1,000.

Saskatchewan impounds the vehicle for seven days if the driver has had two or more distracted driving tickets within the last year.

Dubord said police are also concerned about the increasing use of in-dash video screens that allow the passenger, and often also the driver, to watch movies.

He said officers are also wary of other new and distracting technology, from Google Glass to the Apple Watch.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Trucking company fined $175K for Lemon Creek fuel spill

Decision handed down last Friday in Nelson court

Interior Health leading the way with innovative therapy for stroke patients

Percentage of ischemic stroke patients who received treatment has risen dramatically

Trail open house part of Basin-wide public engagement

Trail event goes Thursday, March 12 from 2-6 p.m., and guided discussion from 6-8 p.m.

Missing Nelson woman found dead

Police say there is no evidence of a crime in the death of Heather Gunderson

Fashion Fridays: Tammy’s big makeover

Kim XO, helps to keep you looking good on Fashion Fridays on the Black Press Media Network

Ryan nets hat trick in return as Senators beat Canucks 5-2

Ottawa winger received assistance for admitted alcohol problem

Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs meet with provincial, federal ministers

Neither party speaking on the groundwork laid for tomorrow’s talks

Speaker ‘will not tolerate illegal activity’ on B.C. legislature grounds, says chief of staff

Chief of staff to the B.C. speaker Alan Mullen says situation with demonstrators appears ‘fluid’

MPs to examine privacy implications of facial-recognition technology used by RCMP

The MPs will look at how the technology affects the privacy, security and safety of children

Dates back to 2009: Calgary police lay charges in fraud involving semi-trucks

Three people from Calgary are facing charges that include fraud over $5,000

Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs optimistic ahead of talks with feds, province

Discussions with provincial and federal governments expected to start later today

‘The project is proceeding’: Horgan resolute in support of northern B.C. pipeline

B.C. premier speaks as talks scheduled with Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs

Most Read