Distracted driving fines are up, but so are deaths: investigation
Something strange is happening on B.C.’s roads.
As police crack down on distracted driving with more and more expensive tickets, the number of people dying from distracted driving is going up.
It’s a trend that is leaving regulators and leaders in this province scratching their heads.
“We sometimes wonder what’s happening too,” said Mark Milner, ICBC’s program director of road safety. “We don’t want people dying in crashes of any description.”
Fines are up, from $3 million collected in 2010, when B.C.’s distracted driving law came in, to $8.2 million in 2015. With $2.4 million collected in the first quarter of 2016, officers are poised to collect $10 million this year.
When the law came in, distracted driving deaths dropped 20 per cent from 102 to 79. But since then, we’ve lost almost half that ground. Last year, 88 people died.
This summer, fines for a first time distracted driving offense more than doubled – from $167 to $368.
Since then, Paramedics of B.C. responded to just over 13,000 motor vehicle crashes. That’s an increase from the same five months last year.
B.C.’s Public Safety Minister Mike Morris told CTV News he thinks that drivers aren’t getting the message.
“The message hasn’t gotten out there the way it should,” he told CTV News on Wednesday. He blamed a generation of younger people who “grew up with a cell phone on their hip” and said he would watch for people who were getting multiple tickets.
“It’s a behavioral issue that we need to change,” he said. “Hopefully we don’t see that driver again in that kind of situation.”
But Langley City Councillor Nathan Pachal said that kind of thinking ignores the tough choice that the design of our road system forces on people who are trying to communicate and get around.
“Investment in transit is key to this whole equation,” he said. “That gives people a multitude of options, so you don’t have to be forced to have a decision between answering your email, or getting home. We need to give people options.”
When asked if it was possible to both get from A to B and use a cellphone, Morris said “No.”
When reminded about transit, he said that he does take it, and has used his phone on board.
“I make up for time when I’m on transit. When I’m in the car my phone is out of sight, out of mind,” he said.
Morris said he’s keep the fines high for at least a year and then reassess the province’s strategy.
Milner told CTV News that there are other distractions that can kill, including eating and drinking behind the wheel, which can double your chances of an accident. Using a cellphone can quintuple the chance of an accident, he said.
ICBC is working to better determine how many of the distractions are related to cell phones, he said.
“Nobody in the U.S. or Canada has a clear idea about that,” Milner said.