I have always advocated for hands-free calling and figured “driving without due care and attention” was a sufficiently good catch-all charge…

People that talk and text on their hand-held smartphones while driving are not nearly as smart as their technology of choice.

There you go: I have made my position clear on the current red-hot driving topic of the day in the Letters pages of every newspaper and on radio talk shows coast to coast. However, that does not mean I am offering my unqualified support for the countrywide torrent of get-even-tougher legislation, designed to pick the pockets of delinquent drivers.

Currently in B.C., the fine is $167 and last year police here issued 51,000 tickets for distracted driving. Victoria knows a vote winner when it sees one and it is pondering a big fine hikes and additional demerit points. The local action comes on the heels of Ontario introducing legislation last month that increases fines from the already high $300 to $1,000.

Fanning the public outrage, B.C. Attorney General Suzanne Anton announced that distracted driving is killing more British Columbians than impaired driving. Forgive my cynicism, but I really question the sudden rush of statistics showing how heinous and deadly a crime this is.

I have always advocated for hands-free calling while driving and figured “driving without due care and attention” was a sufficiently good catch-all charge for those causing a collision during hands-on operation of a cell phone. The fine is $368.

When I began writing on this topic about five years or so ago, there were no such statistics available. It was all anecdotal because, let’s face it, it’s an offence very visible to other drivers. It’s always seemed to me that drivers who talk and text are reckless risk-takers, who run red lights, follow too closely and make dangerous lane changes even without a phone in their hand. My point being that when they crash while performing one of the preceding illicit manoeuvres with phone in hand, it’s a little too convenient to blame it all on operation of the device.

Much of the current public debate was spurred by the revelation that a serial offender in Vancouver racked up 26 tickets and fines of $4,300 for distracted driving since 2010. He may be the pin-up boy for those seeking tougher penalties but interestingly, it appears he never once caused an accident during the time he was caught in cellular action!

Now that the law is in force, I’ve no problem in accepting it, but let’s not kid ourselves into thinking this will stop idiots such as this overly chatty man continuing to take risks on the road that threaten us all.

The fines are already high enough to deter regular drivers who are tempted to err occasionally.

That said… I do worry about how zealously this law is enforced. I frequently hear of tickets issued to drivers who merely glance at their device while at a red light or move it to a new resting place around the dash.

I fear the debate about the fines is a distraction in itself from getting to the heart of dangerous driving. Therefore, I am pleased to hear Anton is also considering public education campaigns on distracted driving, similar to previous initiatives targeting seatbelt use and drinking and driving. That is smarter.

Research shows that many distractions contribute to road carnage. Be careful what you wish for because there are other technological distractions in our vehicles that could invite bans of which you may not enthusiastically support.

Contact: keith [dot] morgan [at] drivewaybc [dot] ca

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