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Texting is the new drunk driving

Penalty for texting and driving includes demerit points and $167 fine, but fine only applies to talking on handheld phone. - Black Press files
Penalty for texting and driving includes demerit points and $167 fine, but fine only applies to talking on handheld phone.
— image credit: Black Press files

VICTORIA – More people are dying from distracted driving than drinking and driving, and that has caused Attorney General Suzanne Anton to reconsider whether B.C.'s penalties for using smart phones behind the wheel are tough enough.

Anton said the latest statistics from 2012 show 81 deaths from distracted driving in the year, compared to 55 related to impaired driving.

"People seem to know that they must not drink and drive, but distracted driving, people don't seem to have the same level of awareness," Anton said Wednesday.

B.C.'s Motor Vehicle Act currently sets a $167 fine for talking on a hand-held mobile phone, and $167 plus three demerit points for emailing or texting while driving. Ontario recently raised its fine from $155 to $280, with a maximum of $500 for those who contest the fine and are convicted.

A few weeks ago Anton wasn't convinced higher penalties would help change driver behaviour, but she said Wednesday she was disturbed to discover that B.C. has more distracted driving deaths than Ontario, which has three times the population.

"Should there be points attached to holding the handheld device and talking? Probably," Anton said. "Should the fines be higher? Probably, so I'm having a look at both of those."

Another statistic that caught Anton's attention was the 51,000 distracted driving tickets handed out in B.C. in 2013. She said that's a "huge number" that suggests the message of distracted driving is not getting through, and a reminder that seatbelt use and impaired driving also took time to impress on the public.

The Superintendent of Motor Vehicles is analyzing B.C. driving habits and will report to Anton, who is considering changing penalties later this year.

 

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