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Distracted Driving: Penalties and Safety Tips

Distracted Driving: Penalties and Safety Tips

The new Pokemon GO video game serves to highlight an issue that affects our personal safety—distracted driving. Last month, the penalties for distracted driving changed dramatically in B.C. Read on for more on the consequences for distracted driving and some tips for staying safe on the road.

Pokemon GO is not the cause of distracted driving, but merely the symptom of our increasing interaction with digital technology. It’s not the devices or apps themselves, but our relationship with these devices that is the issue—our decision to use them in circumstances where they are unsafe. Multiple instances of Pokemon GO users causing accidents while playing the game when driving have now been reported—in one case, with a Quebec City man crashing into a police car while playing the game!

Hopefully, the recent change to penalties for distracted driving in B.C. will help to curb the rising rates of distracted driving incidents; “GO”-related and otherwise.

Where B.C. Stands in the Penalties Rankings

In 2014, distracted driving contributed to the deaths of 66 people in British Columbia, and caused serious injury to 630 more. Distracted driving is currently the second leading cause of car crash fatalities in B.C. A mobile electronic device is one of the most common distractions behind the wheel, and statistics show that a driver is five times more likely to crash if the driver is on the phone.

Before June of this year, the penalty for distracted driving was a $167 fine and three penalty points. As of last month, this has more than doubled, and B.C. currently has some of the strongest repercussions nation-wide for distracted driving.

* British Columbia and Ontario ban the use of hand-held electronic entertainment devices while driving, as well as banning hand-held communication devices

** B.C.’s base fine is $368, with an additional $175 for ICBC’s penalty point premiums

*** A second offense within 12 months has a base fine of $368 as well as $520 for ICBC’s driver penalty point premiums.

**** The fine increases to $644 in construction and school zones.

NOTE: As yet, British Columbia and Saskatchewan are the only provinces that prohibit GDL drivers from using both hand-held and hands-free devices.

Raising the Stakes

As of June 1st, distracted driving has been elevated to the threshold for “high-risk” driving offences. High-risk driving infractions trigger early intervention (and possible driving prohibitions) through the Driver Improvement Program (DIP). Through the new regulations, repeat offenders will be subjected to an automatic review of their driving record, which could result in a three – 12 month driving prohibition. Graduated Licensing Program (GLP) drivers may incur a prohibition of up to six months after their first offense.

Based on referrals from ICBC or police, the superintendent of motor vehicles also has the discretion to prohibit drivers.

Knowing the Facts

It’s not enough to refrain from texting while driving. Take note of the following:

  1. Operating a cell phone/digital entertainment device is illegal even if you are temporarily stopped. The law applies even if you are stalled in bumper-to-bumper traffic, stopped at a red light or stop sign, or any other time you’re in control of the vehicle.
  2. Using your phone for anything while operating a car is illegal. This includes choosing music, programming your GPS, checking voice mails or texts, looking up phone numbers—anything that involves holding your device in your hand, which is a no-no.
  3. Not everyone is legally able to use hands-free devices while driving. For most drivers, this is fine. But those in the Graduated Licensing Program aren’t allowed to use personal electronic devices at any time while driving, even hands-free phones.
  4. You can still be penalized for using your device on speakerphone. Drivers outside of the GLP are permitted to use hands-free devices on speakerphone, but only if the phone is securely attached to them (in a pocket, or on a belt clip, for instance) or attached to the car. The phone cannot be in your lap, on the seat next to you, in the cupholder, or anywhere non-secure–if it is, you may be charged with distracted driving.

Safety Tips

It only takes seconds of inattention for an accident to occur. To avoid the temptation to “just check one text” or perform other dangerous driving practices, try the following:

  • Avoid distraction. Put your phone in the trunk when driving, or turn it off.
  • Pull over to make or receive a call. Make sure that you can park somewhere safe—the shoulder of a busy road is not the place to pull over. Let the call go to voicemail, and stop at the nearest exit so you can check your message.
  • Use the right equipment. Authorized hands-free listening devices for automobile drivers are Bluetooth or wired headsets (worn with the headphone in only one ear) or speakerphone with the phone secured to your person or to the car. Motorcyclists can use two earphones while riding, but they are an exception.
  • Have a designated device user. A passenger in the car can make or receive calls on your behalf, answer texts, program music or navigate with the GPS.

Above all, exercise good common sense, and keep an eye out for other drivers on the road who may not be following the rules. Their distracted driving could affect you too. With technology such as the augmented reality of Pokemon GO (fusing digital and real-time experience) on the rise, our attention is more divided than ever.

But there is evidence suggesting that the increase to penalties for distracted driving may help curb this problem—since 2010, when tougher sanctions for drinking and driving were introduced, there has been a dramatic decrease in alcohol-related traffic fatalities. Let’s hope that the purely preventable accidents caused by distracted driving will also decrease with the new steeper consequences.