New penalties won’t lead to a decrease in distracted driving in BC

​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.

Here’s why.

There are three reasons for why this change to the penalties will change nothing.

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.


0 thoughts on “New penalties won’t lead to a decrease in distracted driving in BC”

  1. Agree with your assessment. The range of driver distractions is broad and as old as driving itself. These new laws and penalties are nothing more than a placebo offered by a government trying to look effective.
    Distracted driving laws are effective at generating revenues however. And that’s all government needs as it’s unspoken justification.

  2. I agree with assessment of effect of monetary penalties. As for phone usage I think the following would be more effective now and into the future. All new cars sold must have hands free capability and dealers must get sign-off that the owner knows how to use that capability. Second, seize the phone for 30 days the first offence then permanently the second offence. It is monetary in that the user must get another phone, but it is more as most of us have our ‘lives’ on our phones.
    More education is needed much like drunk driving has, for most part, become socially unacceptable. It still amazes me to see drivers who cannot talk to their passengers without turning their head – that too is distracted driving.

  3. Well said Kyla…..distraction is a function of human life, and is a part of every humans day. Distraction is cars has been around since inception, and changed and evolved with every new technology. Radios, AC, speedometers, tachometers,sunvisor mirrors, electric seats, windshield wipers, tilt steering, heated seats, CD changers (remember those), PED’s are new in the past 20 years, car infotainment systems, and of course people/passengers, kids, outside scenery, nose picking, paper maps, books, illuminated signs, election signs, business signs, signs that say put your phone down, bumper stickers, mental stress, etc. and on and on it goes. I say the new penalties have a chance to change behaviour, but even if they do, they won’t change the road safety outcomes related to phone use, because phone use is the smallest percentage of collision causes in distracted driving. There has been no increase in collisions in BC and the premise that there is a massive crash problem related to cellphones is nothing short of misleading stat manipulation. 753% increase in cell subscribers in Canada in the past 19 years….NO increase in collisions.

  4. Great stuff, truth cutting like a train horn through the deliberate fog introduced by the auto cartel of the Ministry of Transport, ICBC and the police.
    Fabrication of statistics is sadly nothing new for this sorry sack of money-grabbers.

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