This week, the Provincial Government announced changes to the distracted driving laws in British Columbia. Again. They are raising the fines and penalties again. If you don’t recall, I wrote about this last year when the fine amounts and penalty points were increased.
Now, the BC Government has decided to increase the penalty again, because drivers aren’t getting the message. This policy, however, actually amounts to a substitution of penalties and will not lead to a decrease in distracted driving overall.
Firstly, distracted driving is not going to be curbed by the amount of money that it costs drivers. We are so connected and plugged in to our phones now that drivers simply do not consider the potential cost of a distracted driving ticket to be a significant deterrent. To say that we are addicted to our technology is an understatement.
Consider this: earlier this year a woman in Burnaby was given a ticket for playing PokemonGo while driving. Even though PokemonGo died out as a fad about a year ago, this woman was allegedly so addicted to that piece of technology that she continued to play the game while driving.
So nothing is going to change until we change our entire behaviour around cell phone use.
The second reason why this will change nothing is that it does not actually significant increase existing penalties. A driver who receives two distracted driving tickets in one year faces a total of $736 in court fines and $520 driver penalty point premiums, for a total of $1256 in penalties. The distracted driving premiums they are set to introduce are Driver Risk Premiums, which is a bill of $320 a year, for three years. This is a total of $1696.
So where does the $1996 figure come from? It appears the Government is calculating both the driver penalty point premiums for the first ticket, and the driver risk premium triggered by the second ticket. However, the rule is that you only have to pay whichever premium is greater. You do not have to pay both. So if you receive two distracted driving tickets in a one-year period, you will not be subject to $1996 in fines, as supposedly advertised unless the timing of those tickets coincides with you doubling up on premiums in a particular time period.
It’s a trick of math, that will only apply to some drivers.
But there’s a third issue. According to ICBC, distracted driving accounts for more deaths in British Columbia than impaired driving each year. However, those figures are determined entirely by guesswork and are also not connected to just electronic device distractions. Rather, when police determine a death was caused by distracted driving, the distractions are separated into categories: internal distractions and external distractions. Both are considered “distracted driving” for the purposes of number-crunching, but it is rarely that police can prove that someone died as a direct result of a cell phone.
To put the blame on electronic devices is neglecting all the other categories of distraction that affect people: emotional states, personal problems, noise, the radio, inattentiveness, eating while driving, pets, children in the car… the list is endless.
Increasing the penalties for cell phone offences won’t decrease distracted driving. This is because distracted driving is about more than just using one’s phone while driving. It is about the whole breadth of distractions that keep our eyes and minds off the roadway. And the Government has yet to find a way to legislate, regulate, and tax our thoughts.