Justice Minister Suzanne Anton has promised B.C. will implement tougher distracted driving penalties in the coming months.

Anton revealed the plan Thursday during a two-day conference focused on decreasing the number of deadly accidents on the province’s roads.

“Distracted driving is one of the big causes of death on our highways,” Anton said. “So we will be bringing in new penalties over the next couple months.”

Anton said the province will be looking at increasing both the fines and the driver penalty points issued for refusing to put down phones and devices while behind the wheel.

Currently, drivers face three penalty points and a $167 fine, which is among the lowest distracted driving fines in Canada. Nova Scotia, by comparison, has a maximum fine of $579.

This week's conference is being led by the government agencies and partners including RoadSafetyBC, ICBC, Doctors of BC, regional health authorities, MADD, police, municipalities and others.

Anton said decreasing fatalities and figuring out how to make B.C.’s roads the safest in North America by 2020 are the key aims.

“We have turned the dial down on deaths on our highways over the last 10 years,” she said. “But there were still 290 deaths on our roads in British Columbia last year. We need to change that; 290 deaths is 290 people who didn’t go home to their families.”

That death rate is more than three times higher than the provinces homicide rate, Anton added.

Distracted driving is a major contributor, and has already eclipsed drunk driving as a cause of deadly crashes in B.C., according to the government.