The B.C. government recently announced steep new fines for distracted driving, but will it be enough to get people to put down their smartphones behind the wheel?
First time offenders now have to dish out $543 in both fines and financial consequences with ICBC, up from $167. The fine escalates to $888 for a second offence within a 12 month period.
“Financially speaking, in terms of getting a ticket, how much would be enough to make people incentivized to not risk their lives or other people’s lives? I’d like to think there’s no amount of money – it has nothing to do with money,” Karen Bowman with Drop It And Drive tells Vancity Buzz. “Having said that, having this fine in place is definitely a step in the right direction.”
Bowman founded Drop It And Drive six years ago to raise awareness about the consequences of distracted driving, especially where youth are concerned. She says that while she’s happy to see distracted driving fines increase, she’s unsure of whether or not it will be enough to lower the number of people reaching for their phones behind the wheel.
“Distracted driving is not a technology-based problem, it’s behavioural, and that’s one of the reasons that it’s so challenging to overcome it, because you’re looking at trying to undo years, and in some cases decades, of belief systems about what people think is ok to do behind the wheel.”
Bowman knows firsthand the consequences of distracted driving. Her daughter Kylee was badly injured after a friend’s car was rear-ended, and she now suffers from permanent brain damage.
While Bowman is uncertain about whether or not the fine increases will make a difference, personal injury lawyer Jeff Witten, who sees dozens of distracted driving related injuries come through his office yearly, says they will.
“To the average guy, $500 isn’t chump change,” he tells Vancity Buzz. “I think it’ll get people’s attention. The points are a big issue too – it’s not just the fines, it’s the points.”
He adds, if it’s not working, the provincial government can always go higher. Despite the raise in fines, other provinces still have much higher consequences for distracted driving; PEI, for example, fines drivers up to $1,200.