If B.C. police get their way, distracted drivers will have their fines doubled and their phones seized and taken from them for up to five days.
“It is still so common to see people using their phones while driving,” said Victoria police Chief Jamie Graham. “Now drivers text in their laps and they think they’re fooling people.”
Graham, who heads a traffic safety committee for the B.C. Association of Police Chiefs, has helped draft a motion seeking expanded powers for police when it comes to distracted drivers.
Under the proposed changes, police would be able to increase the current $167 fine. Second offences would see cellphones seized for 24 hours, and that would increase to between three and five days for repeat offenders.
Graham said the fine should be “substantially” higher, noting higher fines for serious offences are around $350.
“We can track [drivers’ cellphone use] to accidents,” he said. “We thought the fine would work but it’s still happening.”
Phone use while driving, except with a hands-free device, was made illegal in 2010. But that hasn’t stopped drivers from texting and talking behind the wheel.
In a blitz last month, police across the province issued more than 6,000 tickets for distracted driving, 83 per cent of which were issued by Lower Mainland RCMP detachments.
The number of tickets issued suggests drivers still aren’t getting the message. RCMP officers handed out 5,500 tickets last month for driving while using an electronic device, compared to 5,300 in February last year. In Vancouver, police issues 672 tickets for the offence in February, compared to 773 in the same time period last year.
Graham said he will present the drafted motion at a June conference to be debated, discussed and voted on by other chiefs. He said he’s “optimistic” it will be passed.
He said he’s not aware of any other jurisdiction seizing phones.
The next step will be to present the recommendation to the provincial government, which is responsible for changing the law or the size of fines.
“We want to encourage the government to look at the issue,” he said.
Justice Minister Shirley Bond could not be reached for comment.
With files from Zoe McKnight, Vancouver Sun
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