10/08/2014 03:04 EDT | Updated 12/08/2014 05:59 EST

B.C. Distracted Driving Penalties Increased


VICTORIA - British Columbia's Justice Minister Suzanne Anton has introduced tougher distracted driving penalties and is signalling that higher fines are coming down the road.

Starting Oct. 20, three penalty points will be added to the record of drivers caught talking on a handheld device while driving. The points are in addition to the current $167 fine for those caught talking on a cell phone while behind the wheel, she said.

Drivers ticketed for texting while driving already get three penalty points, along with a fine of $167.

Anton said distracted driving is the second-leading cause of driver deaths in B.C., averaging 88 deaths, while speeding is the top reason for such deaths, with an average of 105 fatalities every year.

A statement released by the Justice Ministry said between 2009 and 2013, the average number of annual impaired driving deaths in B.C. was 86.

"We are doing this because it's a very serious problem on British Columbia roads," said Anton. "Other drivers can't stand it when people around them are on their phone and distracted, because they are just not paying enough attention to the task at hand, which is driving."

Since 2008, every province and territory in Canada — with the exception of Nunavut — has created laws to deal with cellphone use by drivers.

In Ontario, distracted drivers now face fines as high a $1,000.

Anton said the B.C. government will examine increasing fines for distracted driver offences, but Ontario's fines seem too high.

"We're having a look at the fines," she said. "My goal on the fines is to have a proportional scheme of fines, so that they're based on risk and proportionate to each other."

Last year, police issued 51,200 violation tickets to drivers who were using an electronic device, said a Justice Ministry statement.

The statement said research shows five seconds of texting while driving at highway speeds is like driving blindfolded for almost the length of an entire football field.

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