EDITORIAL: Time to hit distracted drivers in the wallet

Sometimes we need to force people into making better decisions before their poor ones hurt someone

Anyone who drives has seen it.

You’re heading into town on the Trans-Canada Highway and the car in front of you is drifting right, then jerks back into its lane.

Or, you’re sitting at a stoplight and it turns green, but the vehicle at the head of the line doesn’t go, prompting a honk from someone behind them.

Chances are good that, in both these scenarios, the driver of that vehicle is using their phone to check their Facebook newsfeed, or possibly send a text message, according to recently released statistics on distracted driving in B.C.

Five years after fines were introduced to help combat the scourge that is distracted driving, specifically targeting those who can’t stay off their electronic devices, some people still haven’t gotten the message.

ICBC estimates that, at any given time, 9,500 drivers in the province are using a handheld device. A total of 55,100 tickets were issued last year to drivers caught using an electronic device – an increase of about four per cent.

This despite crashes, and deaths, being on the rise due to distracted driving.

According to ICBC, distraction actually took over the top spot in “top contributing factor in fatal crashes” back in 2013. An average of 88 people are killed in our province each year due to distracted drivers.

It’s time to do something about this. If the fact that distracted driving is killing people and causing destruction isn’t enough of a deterrent, it’s time to raise the penalties given out when we’re caught doing it. That said, B.C.’s distracted driving fines are the second lowest in Canada.

When the penalties went up for driving while intoxicated, the number of offences went down. Would the same happen if we increased the penalties for distracted driving?

We can’t say for sure.

History has shown us, however, that sometimes we need to force people into making better decisions by hitting them in the wallet, before their bad decisions kill someone.

We knew for years that seat belts saved lives before we started using them en masse, but it wasn’t until we started fining people for not wearing them that people began instinctively buckling up.

If the current fine structure isn’t doing it, raise it.

These numbers need to come down.

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