British Columbia

Province-wide distracted driving enforcement blitz underway

Police across British Columbia are stepping up their enforcement of distracted driving laws, as ICBC rolls out pricey new premium penalties for repeat offenders.

'The gloves are off,' says RCMP superintendent, as police focus energy on distracted driver crackdown

A Burnaby RCMP officer waits around the corner to bust drivers caught using their cell phones. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

Drivers who refuse to put their phones away when they get behind the wheel now have 2,000 good reasons to reconsider. That's how many dollars ICBC will ding a driver twice convicted of using an electronic device while driving within a three-year span.

And throughout March, police officers across the province are carrying out a distracted driving blitz, stepping up enforcement.

Similar campaigns happen in September, according to Supt. Davis Wendell with the RCMP E Division, who says more than 300,000 tickets for electronic device use have been handed out in the province since 2010.

"We're taking a no-nonsense approach to it. We know that it's dangerous. We know it costs lives, and we're taking action," said Wendell.

Stepped-up enforcement

"If people are still choosing to be irresponsible and risk everyone else's lives with [electronic devices], we're going to use whatever means we have at our disposal," he said, adding that each year, 78 people die in crashes in B.C. where distracted driving is believed to be a factor.

A plainclothes member of the Burnaby RCMP detachment works an intersection, watching for drivers using their phones and radioing his partners around the corner to ticket offenders. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

Wendell said officers will be doing overt operations around intersections, but also using more creative undercover techniques to spot drivers handling their phones, including renting civilian vehicles to blend in and hiring cherry picker trucks to get a sneaky vantage point.

"The gloves are off with it, as far as the operational plans we put in place," said Wendell, adding that enforcement is one of three pillars in the effort to reduce distracted driving — the other two being education and engineering.

New technology

In terms of engineering, ICBC is now running a pilot program with 139 volunteers. It's testing telematic technology that would stop a driver's phone from working while they're operating their vehicle. 

"You can't subvert — you can't opt out of it," said Lindsay Matthews, ICBC director responsible for road safety.

Throughout March, police officers across B.C., are carrying out a distracted driving blitz, stepping up enforcement. (David Horemans/CBC)

Matthews said the eventual use of the technology is up in the air, pending results of the pilot program, but it could be similar to devices assigned to impaired driving offenders who have to provide a breathalyzer sample before they can start their vehicle.

"That's possibly a place it could go," she said, but added more study into the technology is still needed.

Steeper penalties

Meanwhile, ICBC's new financial penalties have come into effect. Beginning March 1, distracted driving convictions were included in the insurer's Driver Risk Premium program, adding $740 to previous penalties. That puts premiums $2,000 above regular insurance premiums. 

"We have some of the highest financial penalties in the country, so at this point I think this is a really strong move," said Matthews.

"It's important that drivers who display riskier behaviours are paying more to make sure they offset the cost of other people's premiums."

Follow Rafferty Baker on Twitter: @raffetybaker