Keep your eyes on the road

Distracted driving is starting to become the new drinking and driving

By  Ken Alexander

Distracted driving is starting to become the new drinking and driving in terms of causing fatal crashes in British Columbia.

Since the proliferation of cell phones, other mobile devices and automobile GPS systems, distracted driving has become a real concern on the province’s highways and byways.

We’ve always had distracted driving before – food consumption, makeup and turning around to separate the children and/or pets.  However, more and more motorists are using handheld devices that seem to demand immediate attention even if it means they’re taking their eyes off the road.

The provincial government passed legislation to combat distracted driving, which went into effect on Jan. 1, 2010.

The province, ICBC and police have partnered in a number of blitzes over the years, but the problem continues to grow. Government statistics show how much distracted driving has ballooned over the years. Some 51,000 tickets for distracted driving (of all types) – more for talking than texting and driving – were handed out last year.

In terms of fatal motor-vehicle incidents, an average of 88 people a year have died in distracted-driving crashes between 2009 and 2013. This is the second highest cause of fatal MVIs in the province.

Speed is the number 1 cause at 105 deaths annually, and alcohol and drug impairment fatalities at 86 is the third largest cause.

So, on Oct. 20, the provincial government decided to hit distracted drivers where it hurts the most – in their pocketbooks. Distracted drivers will now be hit with three points along with the $167 fine.

If they collect more than three points, they will have to pay ICBC driver penalty point premiums, starting at $175 and the cost will escalate if they accrue more.

Two distracted driving tickets would cost $683, and more could lead to monitored or prohibited driving action by the Superintendent of Motor Vehicles.

While some may call this a cash grab, we see it as a necessary step in putting the brakes on distracted-driving fatalities.

Obviously, monetary penalties helped reduce drinking-and-driving case loads, and in time, they will likely bring down distracted-driving ticketing.

Most of us have seen, or have been involved in, “close calls” when another motorist has swerved into another lane or nearly rear-ended the vehicle in front of him or her.

Many of us have been guilty of distracted driving from time to time and some of us may even do it on a regular basis.  So, if we’re caught, it’s going to cost us.

If we are driving and need to use our electronic gadgets, we must pull over when we can do so safely – rather than taking our eyes off the road.

~ Ken Alexander is the editor of the100 Mile House Free Press.