Distracted driving still a problem, despite fine increase

Despite hefty fine increases imposed by the province last month, Victoria police still see drivers using their cell phones behind the wheel.

Despite the hefty fine increases imposed by the province last month, Victoria police continue to see drivers using their cell phones behind the wheel on a daily basis.

One month after the province increased fines for distracted driving from $167 to $368, along with another $175 for insurance premiums, local traffic officers went on a blitz, catching 20 distracted drivers within a two-hour span.

Victoria police spokesperson Const. Matt Rutherford said drivers obviously aren’t happy with being handed such a large fine, but the increases were widely publicized and the message such behaviour is  unacceptable has been ongoing for years.

“It’s disappointing. There’s lots of numbers out there to show how dangerous distracted driving is and there was hope that a greater financial implication would try and curb those numbers,” said Rutherford, who still sees drivers looking at their cell phones behind the wheel on a daily basis.

“I’m not sure if people need to start putting their phones into their trucks or their glove boxes, but it is concerning.”

The move to increase fines came after public consultation during the past year found support for a tougher approach. Provincial officials found that public awareness campaigns had not convinced enough people of the dangers of using their mobile phone or other devices without hands-free services, even though distracted and inattentive driving was a factor in the deaths of 66 people and 630 injuries on B.C. roads in 2014.

With the new fines, the same driver who commits a second offence within 12 months will face a total penalty of $888 and a third offence would cost more than $3,000. Two tickets a year will also trigger an automatic review by the superintendent of motor vehicles that could result in a licence suspension.

Rutherford isn’t sure whether people just don’t care about the fines or they simply can’t curb their addiction to their cell phone. One thing he is certain of, however, is that police will continue cracking down on drivers who ignore the rules.

“We’re out there all the time and if people still choose to use their cell phones and drive, we will be dealing with them,” Rutherford said.