The B.C. Association of Police Chiefs met last Thursday. The association passed a motion requesting more powers be given to the province’s police officers to help combat distracted driving. James Graham, Victoria’s police chief who heads the traffic safety committee, drafted the motion.
It calls for distracted driving fines to be increased from the current $167 to around $350. Graham said “substantial fines” are needed and $350 represents fines for what are considered serious offences.
The motion proposes that a person caught talking on a handheld device or texting for a second time have their device seized and held for 24 hours. For subsequent offenders, police should be able to confiscate the device for up to five days. And if a driver persists in breaching distracted driving laws, their device should be taken away from them permanently.
Currently, no jurisdiction in North America allows police to seize devices of distracted drivers. Graham said, “We don’t want to be ridiculous about this but texting while driving is serious. It’s pretty obvious that there is a big segment of the population that either just doesn’t get it or is deliberately trying to flaunt the law.”
During a province wide blitz conducted in February, police issued 6,000 tickets for distracted driving. The Vancouver Sun reports 83% of tickets issued were handed out by RCMP officers in detachments located in the Lower Mainland. The RCMP handed out 5,500 tickets, an increase of 200 over the month of February 2012.
Other jurisdictions will be watching what happens in B.C. as a result of these proposals. Alberta has what is considered to be the broadest distracted driving law in North America.
In addition to banning the use of handheld devices, activities such as eating, applying makeup and other acts of grooming are also prohibited while operating a motor vehicle. Law enforcement officials in Alberta are taking a “wait and see” approach. Howard Burns, president of the Calgary Police Association said he supports anything that will help reduce the number of people who drive while they are distracted.
But he added that anything that goes beyond fines and demerit points “would require sufficient thought and discussion.” Shirley Bond, British Columbia’s Minister of Justice, stated in an email her department is not currently contemplating any changes to the distracted driving law but she is open to discuss the proposals.