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Penalties for Cell Phone Use While Driving

On January 1, 2010, laws banning driving and using hand-held electronic communication devices came into effect in BC. Drivers caught “holding, operating, communicating or watching the screen of a handheld electronic communication device” while driving would be fined $167 and three penalty points.

As one government source notes: “The banned-while-driving devices include hand-held cell phones, personal digital assistants, other hand-held electronic devices that process or compute data, hand-held audio players including iPods and MP3 players, GPS Navigation Systems, hand microphones, and television screens. During 2010, the RCMP issued 32,000 tickets for infractions of these new laws, and tallied 45 of the 104 driving fatalities that occurred in the areas they policed as caused by distracted driving.”

In late January 2011, to motivate all drivers to redouble their compliance efforts, the police announced a distracted driving ‘crack down’ during the month of February 2011. They reminded drivers that, “distractions also include activities such as eating, drinking and even putting on makeup.” They emphasized that text messaging may be the most distracting activity of all. In 2011, there were roughly 35,000 convictions for distracted driving in British Columbia; in 2012, 41,000.

This year, in early September 2013, the provincial government, The Insurance Corporation of British Columbia and B.C. police chiefs announced a month-long campaign against distracted driving. It will involve increased enforcement efforts, increased educational efforts and, it seems, public debate between these ‘partners’ about the most effective way to solve the problem. The problem is something that time, more studies and more data gathering is showing to be a higher risk, a more intractable issue than was perhaps initially anticipated when the first International Conference on Distracted Driving was held in Toronto in October 2005.

We are told the following:

• Talking on a ‘hand-held’ cell phone while driving
increases crash risk by a factor of 4.

• Texting on a ‘hand-held’ cell phone while driving
increases crash risk by a factor of 23.

• The latest number of deaths per year in BC
attributed to distracted driving is 91.

• After speeding and impaired driving, distracted
driving is now the third highest cause of fatal
crashes in BC.

The debate concerns how to better educate BC’s 3.2 million drivers about the dangers of distracted driving and motivate compliance with the laws. Victoria Police Chief, Jamie Graham, reportedly wants higher fines, more demerit points and more sanctions such as the authority to seize cell phones. By all accounts, no such legislation is being drafted.

Existing laws are being enforced in novel ways. For example, there is a report that during a recent press event near the Vancouver Courthouse, while announcing a safety campaign, a nearby police officer disguised as a panhandler but wearing a wireless microphone and his colleague, a down-the-road uniformed officer, ticketed over a dozen distracted drivers in less than an hour.

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