Police launch distracted driving crackdown

Enforcement blitz comes ahead of expected provincial government move to toughen penalties for drivers who use their phones

A crashed SUV plastered with cellphones served as a symbol for Thursday's launch of a new distracted driving campaign.

A month-long enforcement blitz is underway across B.C. to reduce deaths and crashes from distracted driving.

The new campaign launched Thursday by police forces and ICBC comes ahead of an expected move by the provincial government this fall to stiffen the penalties for repeat offenders.

“B.C. drivers know it’s against the law, but far too many still make excuses for their behaviour, then continue to put themselves and others at risk,” said Staff Sgt. Dale Somerville of B.C. RCMP Traffic Services. “That’s why we’re cracking down on those who cannot police themselves.”

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According to ICBC, an estimated one in four deaths on B.C. roads involves distracted driving, which is the leading cause of crashes with pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists.

Nearly 90 people a year die in distracted driving-related crashes each year in B.C., about a third of them in the Lower Mainland.

Cell Watch volunteers will be roadside across the province reminding drivers to leave their phones alone.

Somerville noted cellphone use is against the law even when a vehicle is stopped at a red light or in slow moving traffic.

ICBC road safety coordinators will also visit community events with a driving simulator the public can try.

Focusing on a phone comes at the cost of the road.   Image: ICBC

Supporters can also take a stand against distracted driving and encourage others to do the same by picking up a free decal to display on vehicles from ICBC licensing and Autoplan offices.

Justice Minister Suzanne Anton said the province’s recent review of the distracted driving penalties made it clear the public agrees the fines are too low.

“The cost of a distracted driving ticket in B.C. is only $167 – the second lowest in Canada – yet the cost of a distracted driving crash can be a person’s life,” she said.

“We are going to fix this. Over the coming months, we will make our roads safer with tough, fair, and effective sanctions to curtail this alarming but preventable problem.”

Motorists are considered four times as likely to crash if they use their phone while driving.