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BC Government takes aim at distracted driving problem

The move means two distracted driving tickets in a three-year period will see their total financial penalties rise to as much as $2,000 ― an increase of $740 over the existing penalties. This is in addition to their regular insurance premium. — Photo courtesy BC Government

Maybe this BC government decision will get the attention of drivers still balking the urge to put down the cell phone when driving.

Monday, the Government of B.C. took a major step by designating distracted driving as a high-risk driving behaviour under the ICBC Driver Risk Premium program.

In a media release, the government's decision means a driver with two distracted driving tickets in a three-year period will see their total financial penalties rise to as much as $2,000 ― an increase of $740 over the existing penalties. This is in addition to their regular insurance premium.

“Distracted driving continues to put people in danger and significant pressure on insurance rates for all drivers. Today, we are taking action to curb the behaviour and improve safety for all B.C. road users,” said Attorney General David Eby in a media release.

“Once implemented, this change will treat distracted driving as the serious high-risk behaviour that it is; one that is on par with impaired driving and excessive speeding. Taking action to improve safety and penalize dangerous behaviours benefits all British Columbians and is another step in the right direction.”

The government said distracted driving is a factor in more than 25% of all car crash fatalities in B.C., killing an average of 78 people each year. Currently, there are about 12,000 drivers in British Columbia that have multiple distracted-driving offences over a three-year period.

When fully implemented, the changes will result in about $3 million to $5 million in additional premiums collected annually, which will be used to offset ICBC’s overall basic insurance rate pressures, benefiting drivers around the province.

“B.C. already has some of the toughest distracted-driving penalties in Canada and these changes make our rules even tougher,” said Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth. “In the continuing fight against distracted driving, even a single death is one too many.”

“It is mind-boggling to see that people still believe that picking up their phone, for even a split second, while driving is safe. Two seconds of looking at your screen is all it takes to cross the lane into oncoming traffic," said Paula Pepin, who was the victim of a serious crash caused by a distracted driver and whose life has been forever affected. "Distracted driving through the use of mobile devices has become a widespread issue and more must be done to change people's behaviour. This is a step in the right direction, and hopefully, the start of a broader cultural shift around this issue. I’m proud to see British Columbia lead the way.”

“Every day, police throughout the province find drivers using hand-held electronic devices behind the wheel. The safety of our communities is the highest priority for police and it is for this reason that we support these new penalties,” said chief constable Neil Dubord, chair of the B.C. Association of Chiefs of Police’s Traffic Safety Committee.

“Police are out on the roads every day targeting drivers who use their phones and other electronic devices behind the wheel. With this new approach and stiffer penalties, police now have stronger tools to ensure that the seriousness of distracted-driving offences are better understood and respected long after our enforcement action.” 

“Ultimately, the pressures on our rates all start in one place ― more crashes,” said Mark Blucher, ICBC’s president and CEO. “We hope this change will further discourage drivers from engaging in this extremely dangerous behaviour, while also ensuring that high-risk drivers pay more for their insurance, while relieving the pressure on insurance rates for all drivers.”

Quick Facts

  • The changes to high-risk driving behaviour require changes to the ICBC Basic Insurance Tariff. Government will issue directions regarding the changes to both ICBC and the B.C. Utilities Commission and the changes would be in effect for convictions beginning March 1, 2018.
  • The Driver Risk Premium charges are separate from Autoplan vehicle insurance premiums and are billed even if the individual does not own or insure a vehicle. For example, currently two distracted driving tickets in one year will cost approximately $1,256. With this change, the cost will be approximately $2,000.
  • As is the case today, drivers with multiple distracted violations in any one year will continue have their driving record subject to automatic review, which could result in a three-to-12-month driving prohibition. Graduated Licensing Program (GLP) drivers will also continue to face intervention after a first distracted driving offence and a possible prohibition of up to six months.
  • Distracted driving relates to those drivers caught using a hand-held electronic device while behind the wheel. In other instances of distraction or inattention, police also have the ability to issue violation tickets for those offences, such as driving without due care and attention.