New distracted driving fines are great, but not enough

[dropcap]Y[/dropcap]ou should put away the phone when you drive, and not just for my sake or for the safety of others on the road. On June 1, the penalties for distracted driving in BC more than tripled. Yes, you read that right.

Those caught driving while distracted will now receive a minimum ticket of $543 for the first offence, plus four penalty points on their BC driver’s licence. If you do it again within 12 months, you’ll be hit with an $888-ticket. A third offence will earn you a whopping $1,628-ticket, and you could lose your licence for a minimum of three months.

That’s a significant increase. But what’s the real cost of distracted driving? In 2014, distracted driving caused 66 deaths, according to Mike Morris, BC’s Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General. These deaths were “100 percent preventable,” he said in a public announcement.

The harsh penalty for using a phone is just a reminder that phones are our most common distraction. The efforts made by the government to curb in-car phone use is commendable; but to really eliminate distractions on the road, our own behaviour has to drastically change, namely by removing the other driving distractions we’ve normalized and by changing the way we view the weight of driving entirely.

“The day will come when distracted driving is as socially unacceptable in BC as drinking and driving, or not using your seatbelt,” Les Sylven, chief constable of Central Saanich Police Services and president of BC’s Association of Chiefs of Police, said in a recent speech.

We have to understand that when we get behind the wheel, we’re operating a metal coffin that weighs 1,000-plus pounds, that can speed up to 100-plus kilometres per hour. Staying focused on the task at hand — driving — is so important.

While this new legislation applies to distractions via phone, there are obviously many more causes of distraction. When I’m running late, I take my breakfast and do my hair in the car; I know a lot of people out there who do their makeup while driving, too.

All these are examples of dangerous activities in the car, and while we might make excuses to justify them, we’re really doing more harm than good. Changing norms around common driving sense through respect for other motorists and pedestrians is paramount to reducing collisions, injuries, and deaths. Hopefully this legislation kicks into gear some real, logical realizations among ignorant drivers. It’s safe to say we still have a long way to go before the weight of our actions in the vehicle really hit home with drivers.

Not driving while distracted is a simple act of omission. Make a start with this realization and we’ll all be better for it.