It is a sad sign of our technology obsessed society that distracted driving is now second only to speeding as a contributing factor to accidents occurring. In terms of severity of resulting injuries, accidents caused by drivers distracted by cellular phones and music players are as deadly as those resulting from drunk driving. The BC government’s most recent attempt to reign in this bad driver behavior comes into effect today. If caught talking on the phone, operating a hand held MP3 player, programming a GPS or texting while driving, drivers will not only continue to face a $167 fine but also will have three driver penalty points go on their record for every conviction.
Increased penalty points for distracted driving
The driver penalty points will stay on record for five years, and if you rack up more than three penalty points in a 12 month period a driver must pay a penalty point premium that starts at $175 and increases rapidly upwards as points accumulate.
Combining penalty points with meaningful cash fines will hopefully deter drivers who are still engaging in this risky driver behavior. However, many critics say this is still not enough. British Columbia distracting driving fines are amongst the lowest in Canada. Suzanne Anton, Attorney General of BC, says the government is examining the fines for distracted driving and wants to come up with a set of fines proportionate to the risk. This is a good sign that fines may increase dramatically in the future.
Newfoundland currently has the highest fines at $400 and four penalty points. In March of 2014, Ontario introduced legislation to reduce collisions, injuries and fatalities on the province’s roads. If passed, the proposed Keeping Ontario’s Roads Safe Act will include increasing fines for distracted driving to $300 – $1,000 and three demerit points. Ontario also has a victim surcharge that helps fund the Victim’s Justice Fund. This is a program that provides assistance to victims or witnesses of crimes.
Ms. Anton is certainly hearing the voices of the many people and organizations that are working to eliminate distracted driving, but has the government implemented strong enough measures? While the introduction of penalty points for distracted driving is a step in the right direction, more needs to be done according to Klein Lawyers, “Distracted driving as a risk to road safety is now nearing the level of public awareness that drunk driving achieved decades ago. Now the penalties and enforcement levels need to catch up so that using a cell phone (whether hand held or hands free) while driving becomes as socially unacceptable and legally risky as drunk driving.”
Take a look around you this week as you drive to work or ferry your kids to school. Are fellow motorists getting the message?