VICTORIA — Distracted drivers in British Columbia will soon face higher penalties in a government effort to stop a habit that kills an average of 78 people in motor vehicle accidents every year.
Attorney General David Eby said Monday he will move to designate distracted driving as a high-risk behaviour similar to impaired driving and excessive speeding under the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia's driver risk premium program.
The changes due March 1 will target repeat offenders, meaning a driver with two tickets for distracted driving over a three-year period will see total financial penalties rise to as much as $2,000, an increase of $740 over current penalties.
"It's pretty clear to me we need to make a cultural change in B.C. where people understand distracted driving is similar to drinking and driving or excessive speeding in terms of the deaths and misery on the roads," Eby said.
He said more than 25 per cent of motor vehicle fatalities in B.C. are related to distracted driving.
"It's unacceptable," said Eby. "That's 78 people who should have gone home to their families but didn't because of distracted driving. We need to send that message at every level of government."
Currently the penalties for a first offence for distracted driving are a $368 ticket, plus four demerit points, which costs $175, bringing the total to $543.
But when the changes are implemented, a driver who receives a second distracted driving ticket within a three-year period could see the penalty increase up to about $2,000, a jump of roughly $740 above the existing tickets.
The government said in a statement drivers will pay $368 for each ticket, and if both tickets are in the same year, they will pay an additional $520 for eight demerit points. The drivers also must pay $370 in risk premiums for the next two years after receiving the original ticket, it said.
"The numbers I have received indicates there are 12,000 British Columbians who have two or more distracted driving tickets in the last three years," Eby said. "Those numbers are totally unacceptable."
He said distracted driving is contributing to higher insurance rates for all drivers and is an unnecessary cause of death and mayhem on B.C. roads.
The Canadian Automobile Association says British Columbia's new penalties will be among the highest in Canada.
Distracted drivers in Ontario face fines and penalties ranging from $490 to $1,000, while the penalties in Prince Edward Island range between $500 and $1,200.
Dirk Meissner, The Canadian Press