Distracted Driving Fines: The Long Con

Last week, the Provincial Government announced changes to the distracted driving laws in British Columbia. Essentially, they are increasing the fine amounts and adding penalty points so that each distracted driving ticket will automatically attract Driver Penalty Point Premiums and become a significant expense to drivers.
I had the opportunity to poll a number of police officers from the Lower Mainland last week about their views on the fine increase. Many of them were not for it, indicating their lack of enthusiasm at giving such a hefty financial hit to drivers who are clearly not able to pay the fine. This, in turn, will lead to the loss of licenses and insurance and a greater financial burden on the drivers who are unable to pay. I can’t help but agree with them.
However, I also see this as part of a long game, played by Government, to further their objective of eliminating traffic court.

This Government doesn’t seem to like the court system. It already did what it could to take impaired driving cases out of the courts and replace them with the Immediate Roadside Prohibition legislation. The Government has also taken steps to create a Civil Resolution Tribunal with a view to eliminating many Small Claims Court proceedings. They’ve already passed legislation and are in the beginning stages of eliminating traffic court and replacing it with a traffic ticket tribunal.
I attend traffic court frequently, and this gives me unique insight into the types of cases that tend to make their way to court. I also get the opportunity to learn why people are in court disputing their tickets. From my experience, it seems that the majority of people who are in court to dispute their tickets are mostly there to seek a fine reduction or time to pay the fine. Of course, there are also the people who are there to see if the officer doesn’t show up (not likely) and the people who want their day in court.
It is also not uncommon for people who dispute their ticket to change their mind upon speaking with the officer, and then to seek a fine reduction or time to pay. These people are largely self-represented.
Increasing the distracted driving penalties will only lead to an increase in the number of disputes filed to request time to pay or a reduction in the fine amount. Given that many of the traffic court locations in the Lower Mainland already have waiting periods in excess of one year for a court date, the backlog in the traffic court system will become exacerbated once the new rules take effect on June 1, 2016.
The Government knows this. They’re playing a long game. It’s a trap. They want to see an increase in the burden on the courts because the publicity about the traffic ticket tribunal has been largely negative. Very few people are for the ticket tribunal, and those who are tend to be the people with very little experience in the traffic court system. I can pretty much guarantee that in a few months’ time we will start to hear about the increasing demands on traffic court, the backlog of traffic ticket court dates, and the need to move toward a speedier process.
Do you think it’s any coincidence that the first step of the three-tiered process to dispute a ticket under the tribunal system involves the adjudicator offering a fine reduction or time to pay as an incentive to pleading guilty? It’s not.
My experience with this Government has taught me that there is often an ulterior motive behind their efforts. And my view about these increased penalties for distracted driving is that they are designed to play into the narrative that traffic court matters will be better served by telephone justice. These fine changes are about the public interest in road safety, sure, but they are about more than that.
We should not let this change in the law make us lose sight of access to justice in the province.

8 thoughts on “Distracted Driving Fines: The Long Con”

  1. Well said Kyla. There is another prediction. Due to the lucrative nature of the new fines and the gains to be had by police and ICBC, we will see stepped up enforcement on this behavior, and therefore more tickets issued. This will result in police and government coming back to us in a year, telling us that we are still not getting the message and tickets are the same as previous year if not higher. This will give them more reasons to take the law further and this will be combined with a ZERO change in the accident and fatals stats to this category, because the phone use only represents 1 of the 66 distracted driving deaths per year, and this law will not change that number, which means police and government can continue to tell us that distracted driving is still the number 2 killer on BC roads. It will just keep playing this way and the decent BC drivers will continue to pay the price for this long con and tax grab.

  2. Bob the mechanic

    While I agree about the long game is to eliminate traffic courts, and I don’t like that idea, distracted driving and cell phone usage is dangerous, and we HAVE THE TECHNOLOGY to do it hands-free at least. I don’t agree with ticketing drivers who pull over to the side of the road and don’t shut off the engine, remove the key to be considered ‘distracted drivers’… Just pulling over should be sufficient.
    Hang up and drive, is it that difficult?

  3. Curious, I had not heard about this:
    “Do you think it’s any coincidence that the first step of the three-tiered process to dispute a ticket under the tribunal system involves the adjudicator offering a fine reduction or time to pay as an incentive to pleading guilty? It’s not.”
    Where can I read about the government intending to do this?

  4. Yeah the problem is that 99% of tickets issued are people at red lights. If the problem is that you want to minimize serious injuries for distracted driving this does nothing to actually curb that behavior, this just punishes people who are changing their damn song on their phone at a red light.

  5. Whats next ? Pretty soon they will make it a fine to drive a 5 speed or turn on the a/c .
    I see cops on there phone and laptops all the time .
    Plus now the cops can pull you over when ever they want and just say they seen a device . Now they have the power to take away someones DL any time they want .
    All they have to do is issue 3 of these fines that are your word against theres .

  6. A very one sided point of view Kyla. Distracted Driving is as dangerous as DUI, if not more so because many times eyes are taken completely off the road, not to mention the human mind is taken off the task of what it should be doing, “Driving”,,,,,,,,,,,,,, Your entire comment is all about the “Money” and Zero to do with the Safety, very pathetic from my point of view. People are dying and being injured every single day, lives and families lives are forever altered, and by a 100% preventable action, no one, and I mean no one needs to access social media or make phone calls while operating thousands of pounds of machinery at speeds on our roads, every driver should be doing only one activity while driving, and that is driving, period! Quit making excuses for actions that should never happen to begin with & put the blame where it belongs, on the Distracted Drivers not the Government.

  7. It’s not distracted by cell phone driving, it’s distracted driving in general and that could mean anything. I have zero doubt that you drive distracted all the time, just maybe it’s not because of your phone. Anything from talking to a passenger to listening to music could be considered a distraction. Our problem is most people these days are too careless or stupid to assess a safe level of distraction and police themselves.

  8. Consider your Charter rights to a fair and unbiased hearing, it’s a slippery slope, people accused of having a breath alcohol level over 0.00 can currently have their drivers license revoked without a fair trial prooving the device used is actually working and calibrated to a degree of accuracy (even though the government and manufacturer has claimed they don’t) now this indicates the government plans to remove obstacles (hearings) from their significant revenue generator (traffic tickets), don’t pretend to think this is for safety, it’s to generate revenue.

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