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Changes coming for distracted driving penalties in BC

(iStock Photo)

Province expected to announce changes to distracted driving penalties today

'Drop It and Drive' says not everyone will be deterred by a tougher distracted driving fine

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – Get ready to face tougher fines if you are caught with your phone in your hand while you’re behind the wheel.

The provincial government is expected to announce changes to distracted driving penalties today.

Currently, a ticket for texting while driving in BC will net you a $167 fine and three points against your license, which is just about the lowest in the country — the fine can be over $1,000 in other provinces.

Karen Bowman with the group Drop It And Drive has been a loud voice in the anti-distracted-driving movement and she will be at the news conference today. She welcomes changes to BC’s distracted driving laws but believes they aren’t the only thing needed to get people to put down their phones.

“Tougher penalties are just one tool we need in the toolbox to get the message across to people. Not everyone will be inspired by a fear of a higher fine,” she tells NEWS 1130.

“It’s their belief system is what we are looking at changing. For a lot of people, the assumption is that distracted driving is a technology-based problem. We believe it’s behavioural and that’s one of the reasons it is so challenging.”

Bowman feels raising awareness through education and increasing the stigma associated with distracted driving are also key factors in getting people to change behaviours behind the wheel.

“What you’re actually risking is far worse than a fine or some demerits. Distracted driving really needs to reach the same level of social stigma as drunk driving. It’s just not there yet.”

Bowman says some people have an “ingrained belief” in what they perceive is their right to do what they want in their own vehicle.

“They may or may not agree with the law and they may have an over-inflated opinion of their ability to do what they think is multi-tasking behind the wheel. They don’t understand that when you are dealing with two or more cognitively demanding tasks, their brain can’t actually multi-task. You’re brain can’t actually do that, it will switch from one task to the other,” she explains.

Bowman’s own daughter was eight years old when she was hurt in a crash involving a distracted driver and she hopes people will start to link the behaviour with risks to either themselves or their loved ones.

“That’s what’s happening. When you see stats like five Canadians die on our roads every day in preventable car crashes, it might seem like a small number — but what if it was someone your family?” she asks.

“I got the call from the crash scene of our daughter, and to this day, I will never forget that phone call.”

Five years later, Bowman says she is still feeling the effects of the injuries from the crash.

“I would like to think that anyone who is unhappy with increased penalties will start switching from worrying how much money it might cost them to worrying about what would happen if it cost them someone they love.”

ICBC estimates distracted driving kills, on average, 88 people per year in the province.