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April 9, 2014

Distracted Driving – A Criminal Offence?

Vancouver Sun columnist Ian Mulgrew has sparked another debate. This time over distracted driving.

Should distracted driving be a criminal offense? Should offending drivers face jail time?

“A fine and a few licence points are far too little to stop carnage on our roads,” says Mulgrew. “The solution is federal action to make such driving a serious criminal offence.”

Here’s why:

  • Distracted driving is now the number one cause of road accident fatalities. In 2012, there were 81 deaths caused by distracted driving, compared to 55 caused by drinking and driving in 2013.
  • Last year, police issued 51,000 tickets for distracted driving offences (that’s 140 tickets a day). But the death toll continues to climb in spite of enforcement and awareness campaigns.
  • Last week it was reported that a 59-year-old man racked up 26 tickets and $4,300 in fines for distracted driving. According to Mulgrew, the penalties were a “slap on the wrist compared with slapping on the handcuffs.”

A Nanaimo mom, Karen Bowman, is sharing her story about distracted driving. Three years ago her eight-year-old daughter was in a car accident caused by a distracted driver. The girl still suffers from pain, memory loss, and frightening flashbacks.

Bowman says the government must issue stricter penalties. “You could start with a $500 fine and double it with every repeat offence,” she said. She also thinks the government and ICBC should up their public awareness efforts, following the lead of graphic campaigns rolled out in the UK and Australia.

Justice Minister Suzanne Anton says the Department is considering harsher penalties for those caught driving with a cell phone in hand.

“It’s remarkable distracted driving is causing more tragedies right now than drinking and driving is,” said Anton.

Last month, Ontario increased its fines from $300 to $1000 for distracted driving. B.C.’s course of action may be similar.

But Mulgrew says it’s not enough. He believes the federal government “should look at amending the Criminal Code to specifically target those who carelessly injure, maim or kill while driving distracted.”

Mulgrew’s article is getting mixed reviews on the Vancouver Sun’s Facebook page, but the majority of readers seem to be in favour of making distracted driving a criminal offense in certain situations.

One man responded by posting a link to a UK video on the devastating consequences of distracted driving. Here is the shortened version:

WARNING: GRAPHIC CONTENT

The existing law doesn’t have to change in order to land a distracted driver in jail.

Section 249(1) of the Criminal Code of Canada says it is an offence to “…operate a motor vehicle in a manner that is dangerous to the public, having regard to all the circumstance, including the nature, condition and use of the place at which the motor vehicle is being operated and the amount of traffic that at the time is or might reasonably be expected to be at that place.”

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