Police across B.C. are ramping up distracted driving enforcement to remind people, more than a decade after legislation was introduced, to stay off their phones and pay full attention to the road.
“It is quite shocking still,” said Cst. Markus Anastasiades with Saanich Police. “Because we know that distracted driving is the leading cause of death or injury on our roads, even here in Saanich.”
According to ICBC, nearly half of British Columbians admit to using their phones while driving. Forty per cent of injuries in police-reported car crashes are due to distracted driving.
It kills, too, with the province seeing an average of 77 deaths yearly, including 10 deaths on Vancouver Island.
“There really is no excuse for using your phone while driving. That important text can always wait,” said Anastasiades.
For the next four weeks, extra officers will be out looking for distracted drivers across the province in a push from police and ICBC to clamp down on the dangerous habit.
And while distracted driving can be people on their phones while behind the wheel, distracted driving comes in many forms.
“We see everything,” said Anastasiades.
“We see people using full laptops while they’re driving, we see people trying to eat bowls of soup. We have seen people with dogs running around loose in their vehicle, which is a distraction.”
Current legislation on distracted driving has been around for 13 years, but a Vancouver criminal lawyer says the legislation is out of date.
“It’s not as relevant to the new technology we have in our cars and on our phones,” said Kyla Lee, a defence lawyer who deals with DUIs and distracted driving cases, among others.
“Using your phone to play music and pressing the shuffle button or skipping a song is no more dangerous than one touch to answer or take a call. But taking the call is allowed if the phone is mounted. Shuffling the song is not allowed, even if the phone is mounted. It makes no sense.”
Lee says typically, police are using their discretion roadside, looking to punish obvious offenders.
According to ICBC, one distracted driving ticket is $368 plus four driver penalty points ($214) for a total of $582. Drivers with two convictions for using an electronic device while driving in a three-year period will face as much as $2,000 in fines and penalties, over and above any vehicle insurance premiums.
In addition to other penalties, drivers in the graduated licensing program could be prohibited from driving for three to eight months.