Increased penalties for distracted driving will help deter the dangerous practice and raise awareness of the issue, says one of B.C.’s top doctors Bonnie Henry.
This morning government officials announced a penalty increase for distracted drivers in an effort to reduce the number of people who use their cell phones or other devices while driving.
LISTEN: Lynda Steele talks road safety with the Deputy Provincial Health Officer
The announcement comes in the wake of a report by the provincial health ministry that called for distracted driving penalties to be comparable to those for drinking and driving.
Henry is the deputy provincial health officer and says the sometimes deadly practice of distracted driving is increasing.
“Not only is it a problem, but it’s an increasing problem. We’re seeing more and more of the crashes leading to injuries and fatalities being associated with distracted driving.”
Distracted driving was involved in nearly 30% of serious accidents in 2013, having almost doubled since 2004.
New rules mean heavier fines and driving bans
The provincial government’s new legislation means first time distracted driving offenders will pay $543, and if caught again within one year will be slapped with an $888 fine with a possible driving ban starting at the second offence and going forward. The new rules come into effect on June 1, 2016.
As an official who advises elected government representatives on the health and well being of B.C. residents, Henry says while older people have been caught for distracted driving, young people are a target group for education initiatives.
“They’re the generation that have grown up having these devices attached to them…they need to understand why distracted driving is such a big deal.”
Recognizing a dangerous habit
Henry says many people who engage in distracted driving aren’t aware of their habit.
“People don’t even recognize that they’re doing it sometimes,” she says, adding that people need to recognize and speak-up when they see their friends or family drive while using a device.
Henry says increased penalties have helped reduce drunk driving and while an upward bump in the penalties will help reduce distracted driving, education on the issue remains an important factor.