In British Columbia, distracted driving is the second highest contributing factor to motor vehicle related fatalities, with 88 deaths a year. This number even surpasses the ICBC figures for deaths attributed to drunk drivers on B.C. roads. Despite these statistics, it is estimated that over 9,500 drivers continue to use a hand-held device while driving at any given time in British Columbia. Approximately 40% of those drivers are specifically texting while driving. In 2014, police issued approximately 55,100 tickets to drivers who were caught using an electronic device behind the wheel in B.C. This was an increase from 2013, when police issued about 53,000.
Consequently, in response to the continued use of cell phones while driving, the B.C. government made it illegal for drivers to use any type of hand-held electronic devices in 2010. The Motor Vehicle Act amendment, the Use of Electronic Devices While Driving Regulation B.C. Reg 308/2009 prohibited the use of hand-held electronic devices while operating a vehicle. This penalty was later increased to a fine of $167 and three penalty points, in 2014.
It seems, however, that these penalties are simply not having the deterrent effect that the B.C. government had hoped for. Drivers are continuing to text and drive, and fatalities are continuing to be the ultimate consequence of this type of risky behavior. Further, ICBC is struggling with rising insurance claim costs that result from distracted driving. ICBC has had to increase rates an average of 5.2% for B.C. drivers, as a result of the $500 million increase in injury claims for distracted driving in the past 5 years. The province may need to consider amending the B.C. Motor Vehicle Act to give drivers more of a deterrent. Under the current legislation, B.C. drivers who are caught texting will be ticketed $167 and given three penalty points, which is the second most lenient penalty in Canada.
Recent Developments: Cracking Down
The B.C. government is now considering whether distracted driver fines and penalties should be increased, in order to be in line with other Canadian provinces. Ontario recently amended its Highway Traffic Act, raising fines for distracted driving to a range of $300 to $1,000 in addition to the loss of three demerit points.
Justice Minister Suzanne Anton has announced plans to amend the penalties and fines, but she has first sought the public’s opinion before moving forward. With a view to create this dialogue, the B.C. government opened up a consultation from June to July 2015, through RoadSafetyBC. Members of the public and government stakeholders shared ideas about how to toughen B.C.’s distracted driving laws. They were asked about their thoughts on whether drivers caught texting should face greater sanctions than those talking on a hand-held device, whether new drivers or repeat offenders should face greater penalties, and whether sanctions such as prohibitions and vehicle impoundments should be considered. RoadSafetyBC received more than 10,000 submissions during its consultation, with more than 90% of the respondents saying they are very concerned about distracted driving. The results of the RoadSafetyBC dialogue and the plans for legislative change are expected to be announced in the fall of 2015.
The Introduction of E-ticketing
British Columbia has already begun to implement measures to make fighting distracted driving tickets more difficult for drivers. The process of e-ticketing will soon prevent regulatory traffic violations from being challenged in court. In this real time electronic system, a police officer uploads a ticket and it is immediately entered into the judicial system and payable online. In order to challenge a ticket, a ticketed driver will have to request to appear before the Driving Notice Review Board, where he or she must supply his or her own evidence. The decision of the board is final, with no right to an appeal.
Once fully implemented, e-ticketing will ideally create a prompt and efficient system for law enforcement officers and the province that is accessible for citizens. There will also be significant savings, since approximately 14% of the 500,000 tickets issued each year in British Columbia are disputed. E-ticketing is estimated to save B.C. $8 to $11 million per year by freeing up court resources. The B.C. Ministry of Justice has also cited the nearly year-long wait times for many drivers to have their day in court as a justification for this more streamlined dispute resolution process. The hope has been that this new streamlined e-ticketing initiative, in conjunction with the input from individual and provincial stakeholders, could strengthen the movement to change B.C.’s distracted driving sanctions and frame future discussions by B.C.’s road safety partners.
Bronson Jones & Company LPP Vancouver Personal Injury Lawyers Keeps You Up-to-Date
At Bronson Jones & Co. LLP, we stay on top of legislative developments. As Vancouver personal injury lawyers, we try to keep you informed about current rules and regulations as well. As B.C. aims to have the safest roads in North America by 2020, it appears there is quite a bit of work ahead. The new legislative proposals will have to address the divide between those that condemn distracted driving and those that continue to use their phones on the road. It is likely the penalties will have to be raised to the level that they can have a severe deterrent effect, such as the severe roadside prohibitions that are routinely given to impaired drivers. We encourage you to check back on our site for any new developments on the upcoming legislative changes.