As crashes caused by distracted driving continue rising in British Columbia, a Vancouver-based law firm has raised questions about whether the issue is as serious as the provincial government says it is.

Citing data released by the BC Coroners Service, Acumen Law says the numbers show use of an electronic device was a contributing factor in 14 deaths on the road between 2008 and 2016.

“The tie between distracted driving and electronic devices is simply not there,” says lawyer Sacha Roudette.

However, the data also contains a note saying the given number is low because it can be hard to determine if device use truly was the cause of an accident.

ICBC says distracted driving has become the leading cause of deaths on B.C. roads, claiming 78 lives each year on average, and continues reminding drivers to leave their phones alone while behind the wheel.

Roudette says the public insurer’s message is “full of hype.”

“It turned out the government had massively exaggerated the data,” she says.

In late 2017, the province announced repeat distracted drivers would face heavier penalties, raising the fines for drivers who receive two distracted driving tickets in three years from $1,256 to almost $2,000. Around the same time, the provincial government also announced their intention to test new technologies to stop motorists from driving distracted, including mobile phone apps that block all calls and texts in moving cars.

Roudette, whose firm’s clients include people who have received distracted driving penalties, says drivers are facing serious consequences based on inaccurate data and called the crackdown a “cash grab.”

"One ticket for using an electronic device results in a $368 fine and four points on a driving record, and driver risk premiums also increase,” she says. “Definitely there's money to be made.”

While the firm thinks the link between digital devices and deaths may be exaggerated, one thing not in dispute is that failing to pay attention behind the wheel is unnecessarily risky behaviour.

ICBC declined a request for comment, but released a statement saying “the bottom line” is for drivers to be more careful on the roads.

On the corporation's website, ICBC says distractions are dangerous even when drivers are stopped because they affect situational awareness. Drivers are five times more likely to crash if using a hand-held device, ICBC says.

The corporation recommends drivers put phones on silent and out of sight, or choose a "designated texter" to respond to messages for them. They should pull over to make or receive a call, and know the rules of the road well – many aren't aware that distracted driving laws apply to any time a vehicle is on, even if stopped at a light or in bumper-to-bumper traffic.

With a report from CTV Vancouver's Bhinder Sajan