BRITISH COLUMBIA
04/02/2014 05:21 EDT | Updated 06/02/2014 05:59 EDT

Distracted Driving: B.C. Government Considers Higher Fines, Penalties

VICTORIA - Distracted driving is killing more British Columbians than impaired driving and Attorney General Suzanne Anton said Wednesday the government is considering higher fines and penalties to put the brakes on the carnage.

Anton said it doesn't appear British Columbians are getting the message that distracted driving is deadly, and along with increased penalties she's considering public education campaigns similar to previous initiatives targeting seatbelt use and drinking and driving.

"Distracted driving is a very serious problem in B.C.," she said. "In 2012, we had 81 deaths, and that's 81 families who have terrible tragedy in their lives. Compared to drinking and driving there were about 55 drinking and driving deaths in 2012. It's remarkable distracted driving is causing more tragedies right now than drinking and driving is."

B.C.'s distracted driver law was introduced in 2010, that included a fine of $167 for people caught talking on their mobile devices while driving. Drivers caught texting or emailing receive an additional three penalty points and the fine.

Only hands-free cellphones and devices that require one touch to activate are permitted to use under B.C.'s law.

Anton said the government will now consider adding demerit points to drivers caught talking on their mobile devices, along with boosting the $167 fine.

"People need to know that to talk on the telephone and drive is a dangerous thing," she said. "To email or text, I think people do know that it's a ridiculously dangerous thing. People need to keep their hands off their devices while they are driving and focus on the task at hand. I'm very troubled by the statistics."

Anton said last year police in B.C. issued 51,000 tickets for distracted driving.

"It's a matter of public awareness," she said. "I think the fines will make a difference and, I think, the points will make a difference."

Anton said she has tasked the office of the Superintendent of Motor Vehicles to undertake a deeper review of distracted driver issues, with proposed fines and increased penalty points introduced later this year.

Ontario introduced tough road safety legislation last month that increases distracted driver fines to $1,000 from $300. The new law also includes three demerit points.

Premier Christy Clark said Anton is looking to reduce the dismal distracted driver statistics and increased fines and demerit points could help.

"I don't know what the answer to that will end up being, and I don't want to prejudge the outcome of that, but I think it's worthy of a good hard look because if that's the reason many people are losing their lives, we have a responsibility to address it."

Earlier this year, Anton said the Liberal government believes its controversial impaired driving law introduced more than three years ago has saved 190 lives.

She noted that drinking and driving deaths have declined 52 per cent since September 2010, when police officers were given powers to issue immediate roadside suspensions for suspected impaired drivers.

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