News Local

Distracted driving fine more than doubles

By Eric MacKenzie

POSTMEDIA FILE PHOTO

POSTMEDIA FILE PHOTO

The cost of being caught using your cell phone while behind the wheel is about to get a lot higher.

The B.C. Government announced Monday that distracted driving penalties are increasing as of June 1 — with stiffer punishments being handed out to both first-time and repeat offenders.

The base fine for distracted driving is increasing from $167 to $368, and motorists caught will incur four penalty points instead of the current three.

With penalty-point premiums factored in, a first-time offender will pay a minimum of $543, while a second offence within 12 months will cost a total of $888 — and the amounts continue to escalate with each subsequent offence within a one-year span.

“Distracted driving, like drinking and driving, is entirely avoidable, yet too often has devastating consequences,” said public safety minister Mike Morris in a release.

“By deploying tough new sanctions for distracted driving, we want to see our drivers, cyclists and pedestrians get home to their families safely as we take another step towards reaching our goal of having the safest roads in North America by 2020.”

The new measures could also result in prohibitions for repeat offenders or new drivers. Motorists still within the Graduated Licensing Program will face “intervention” on their first offence and could see their licence suspended up to six months. Chronic offenders may face bans as long as 12 months.

A government release said public consultation found 90% of respondents in favour of tougher penalties for distracted drivers. It added that distracted and inattentive driving contributed to 66 deaths and more than 600 serious injuries on B.C. roadways in 2014 alone.

“It’s encouraging that the B.C. government has chosen to make significant changes to the penalties for distracted driving; the increase in penalty points should have an impact, particularly on repeat offenders,” said Drop It And Drive founder Karen Bowman in a release.

An estimated 50,000 distracted driving tickets are handed out in B.C. annually.