Kyla Lee on The Province: New distracted driving penalties “a way for the government to line its own pockets”

​The B.C. government’s latest crackdown on distracted driving should be good news for Kyla Lee, a Vancouver defence lawyer who specializes in fighting traffic tickets in court.

That’s because every time the government’s hammer comes down, the calls to her law office go up. It’s happened every time the people in charge have ramped up penalties against drivers using their mobile phones behind the wheel.

​This time — with the fines and penalties scheduled to soar to $2,000 for a second offence — she’s expecting her own phone to ring off the hook.

“Not a lot of people have $2,000 kicking around to just pay a huge penalty,” Lee told me Wednesday. “More people will decide it’s worth the time and expense to fight back.”

But while the crackdown could be good for business, Lee wonders if the government is doing the right thing — and not just because of the added strain on the justice system.

“Hitting people in the pocketbook doesn’t seem to be working,” she said. “Every time they increase the penalties, the police just keep writing more tickets and nothing seems to change.

“It’s starting to look more and more like a way for the government to line its own pockets.”

Derek Lewers, a researcher with the drivers’ advocacy group SENSE B.C., also sees a cash grab in the works.

“The government is already counting on collecting an additional $5 million a year from increased penalties — that was right in their press release,” he said. “Instead of trying to stop the behaviour, they’re already banking the cash.”

That doesn’t mean Lewers thinks people should be allowed to type emails or text-message on their phones while driving.

“But that’s not what most distracted-driving tickets are issued for,” he said. “Most tickets are for a driver simply touching a cellphone while stopped at a traffic light.”

Under the current law, it’s illegal to handle a cellphone behind the wheel, even if the vehicle isn’t moving.

Lewers pointed to records released under B.C. Freedom of Information laws to back up his point. Of 52,000 distracted-driving tickets issued in 2013, only 1,000 were for “texting or emailing,” the records show.

“It’s starting to look more and more like a way for the government to line its own pockets.”

“The rest were mainly for drivers physically touching a phone, usually while stopped at an intersection,” Lewers said. “You are allowed to fiddle with the buttons on a radio or move a briefcase into your back seat or drink a cup of coffee, but you cannot touch a cellphone.”

Lee, the defence lawyer, thinks the government sees a chance to make a lot of money in a hurry.

“Rather than spending money to correct a problem — like deploying specially trained distracted-driving enforcement officers, for example — they’re planning to collect money from citizens because of the problem.”

Don’t expect the government to reverse course. The opinion polls support a distracted-driving crackdown. And the B.C. government is desperate for cash to stop the financial bleeding at ICBC.

The best advice for drivers: Don’t even look at your phone, even when your car is parked, or it could cost you a tonne.

You can read the full interview here.

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