On June 1, BC introduced harsher penalties for distracted driving. Are they working? Initial reports from the Vancouver Police Department show that fewer distracted driving tickets were issued in June 2016 than in the previous year – but only by 14%. Not exactly a ringing endorsement.
Distracted driving can kill, but it can also hurt the pocketbook. Fines in BC more than doubled – from $167 to $368 – and the number of associated penalty points applied to a driver’s record increased from three to four. First time offenders find themselves paying $543, including a $175 penalty point premium. A second offence within 12 months will cost $888 including $520 in penalty point premiums. Each new offence ups the fines and the penalties.
But drivers continue to reach for their phones. Dr. Brian Ferris, a psychologist based in North Vancouver, predicted this would be the case. Drivers don’t get it. Distracted driving is dangerous.
Dr. Ferris says new laws and regulations don’t always influence human behaviour, at least not in the beginning. “One, the person doing so seldom thinks they are going to get caught, and two, they are making a decision to text or talk to their friend or whatever emotionally. They are not thinking about the consequence at all.”
Ferris draws a comparison between distracted driving and drunk driving – a behaviour that persists, despite decades of tough laws and penalties. We agree that it is wrong, yet people still drive drunk. Fortunately, greater awareness and education on the topic of drunk driving has reduced the carnage. It has become socially unacceptable to drink and drive. And eventually it will be socially unacceptable to drive while distracted.
ICBC ranks distracted driving as the second leading cause of car crash deaths in the province. Stiffer fines and harsher penalties are the first steps. But ultimately, people need to understand how dangerous it is to drive while distracted. Take the pledge: “Leave the phone alone”.