One of a series of B.C. government graphics aimed at educating drivers about the dangers of distracted driving.

Public demands higher distracted driving fines

Thousands offer advice on stronger penalties, but most are older people from the Lower Mainland

Halfway through a consultation on distracted driving policy, the vast majority of B.C. residents who have responded want fines increased.

Justice Minister Suzanne Anton says thousands of people have participated on the B.C. government’s consultation website, and more than 90 per cent want stronger action to stop people talking or texting on their phones while they’re behind the wheel. The issue now is how high the fines should go.

“British Columbians are also telling us they want to see tougher escalating penalties for repeat offenders, because right now some people see the $167 ticket as the cost of doing business,” Anton said Tuesday. “We need to stop that.”

B.C.’s fine is the second lowest in Canada, and a three-point insurance penalty was added last fall. Anton said she doesn’t intend to follow Ontario’s lead and put the fine up to $1,000 for repeat offenders, but an increase will be coming within a year.

Comments on the website continue to debate the merits of seizing cellphones from drivers, but Anton reiterated that option is not being considered.

Suspending licences or impounding vehicles of repeat offenders is on the table, however. Saskatchewan impounds the vehicle for a week if the driver gets two distracted driving tickets less than a year apart.

The consultation continues until July 16. Participants are asked to reply to nine questions.

The crowd-sourcing exercise has its weaknesses. Only five per cent of respondents have come from the B.C. Interior, and Anton said younger people are also under-represented.

The province attributes 88 deaths to distracted driving last year, second to speeding and ahead of impaired driving.