POLITICS

Coroner wants review of licensing program and 106 deaths of young B.C. drivers

02/11/2015 02:54 EST | Updated 04/13/2015 05:59 EDT
VICTORIA - Speeding, impairment and lack of seatbelts are the main causes of death of young people in vehicle accidents in B.C., prompting a call for a review of British Columbia's Graduated Licensing Program.

A coroners' report released Wednesday included the composite example of a 17-year-old male who was thrown from his speeding sports car as it flipped several times and landed on its roof.

The young man's story is an example of many other deaths of young people behind the wheel, the report said.

The coroners service is asking the government to review the drivers' licensing plan after the deaths of 106 youths who were killed in vehicle accidents between 2004 and 2013.

B.C.'s Chief Coroner Lisa Lapointe told a news conference that the Graduated Licensing Program has reduced young driver deaths since it was adopted in 1998, but it's time for a review to bring home the message to youths and their parents that driver safety saves lives.

A panel of the B.C. Coroners Service found that most of the deceased drivers were males between 17 and 18 years old.

Motor vehicle incidents are the leading cause of death for young people in B.C. between 15 and 18 years old.

"The youth driver fatality review really confirms the stats we see across fatalities, for adults as well, in that the three highest risk factors are speed, impairment and lack of seatbelt use," Lapointe said.

The report makes three recommendations, including a review of the Graduated Licensing Program by 2017 and a focus on finding ways to reduce crashes at the higher-risk Novice licensing stage.

The licensing program involves a learner's stage when drivers who pass a knowledge test must display an "L" sign on their vehicle, followed by a road test that leads to the novice stage and an "N" sign on vehicles.

Novice drivers with a 24-month unblemished driving record can leave the graduated program by passing a second road test.

The report also recommends starting pilot projects that involve automated speed enforcement at limited sights identified as crash areas.

The ministers of justice and transportation said they were open to implementing the recommendations in the report, but added it was too early to say when that would happen.

Transportation Minister Todd Stone, who is responsible for the Insurance Corp. of B.C., said the call for a review of the Graduated Licensing Program was a "practical suggestion."

Justice Minister Suzanne Anton said she will consider a pilot project to monitor driver speeds in hazardous areas.

"We have an ambitious goal to have the safest roads in North America by 2020," she said. "We are always interested in what kinds of approaches we might take to reduce deaths on roads. Safety is our No. 1 priority."

Lapointe said the government did not contact the coroners service before raising speed limits on some roadways last year.

Stone said the service had an opportunity to contribute its input to the speed limit decision, but did not submit a viewpoint.

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