Vehicle crashes are up in B.C., costing ICBC more in claims. (Colleen Flanagan/Black Press)

B.C. defends distracted driving crackdown

Lawyer says penalties too harsh for texting at stoplights

Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth says tough new penalties for distracted driving are based on research that shows the high risk of talking or texting while driving.

Farnworth was responding to a Vancouver lawyer’s claim that distracted driving penalties are too high, after his review of coroner reports found that only 14 people in B.C. were determined to have died while using electronic devices behind the wheel between 2008 and 2016.

Farnworth noted that the problem goes far beyond deaths. Distracted driving is one of the main reasons given to explain the sudden jump in vehicle accident and injury claims that started in 2015 and has pushed up costs at the Insurance Corporation of B.C.

“Research tells us that you’re 23 times more likely to crash if you’re texting at the wheel and three or four times more likely to crash if you’re on the phone,” Farnworth said, citing a report from a U.S. university. “And police-reported Traffic Accident System data tell us that, over the last several years, distraction and inattention have injured 175 people – a dozen of them seriously – on average each week in B.C.”

Vancouver lawyer Paul Doroshenko released a freedom of information request this week showing deaths confirmed by coroners.

“What we see is people who are punished with lengthy driving prohibitions as a result of picking up their cellphones at a set of traffic lights,” Doroshenko said.

RELATED: B.C. hikes distracted driving penalties

The public safety ministry reports that between June 2016 and June 2017, police in B.C. issued 44,000 distracted driving tickets, a reduction of 13 per cent from the previous year. The NDP government announced new measures in November that add up to a $2,000 penalty for getting two distracted driving tickets within three years.

“For these reasons, we’re taking action to make some of the toughest distracted driving penalties in Canada even tougher,” Farnworth said.

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