By Dan Walton

Pioneer Staff

Stiffer penalties are in effect against those who are caught driving distracted in British Columbia.

The $167 fine now carries three demerit points, which lingers on a drivers ICBC record for five years.

The change to the law came into effect on Friday, October 10th. Repercussions will have more of a compounding effect, as drivers with multiple offences will be subject to insurance premiums and could face restrictions against driving privileges.

[Before the changes,] if they kept paying the fines, they didnt lose their licence, said Columbia Valley RCMP Cpl. Brent Ayers.

The law against distracted driving is open to interpretation, but generally targets drivers that make use of a handheld electronic device while on the road.

Adding these new penalty points to the ticket will quickly identify for us the drivers who see the fine simply as the cost of doing business, said Attorney General and Minister of Justice Suzanne Anton in a government press release. Some of them will have to pay a driver penalty point premium, while others will more quickly end up being monitored by the Superintendent and possibly even prohibited from driving.

A driver can get slapped with up to three demerit points without penalization through ICBC, but premiums will be applied to insurance rates for those with more. The minimum premium penalty costs an additional $175 per year. Even if a repeat offender can afford the increase in insurance, he or she may become suspended from driving.

As points accrue, the Superintendent of Motor Vehicles may also identify a driver as high risk and monitor or prohibit them under the Driver Improvement Program, reads the government release. B.C. will continue to monitor the effectiveness of similar legislation in other jurisdictions and their fine amounts.

It also states that the province is actively determining an appropriate increase onto the $167 flat rate fine.

In Ontario, distracted drivers now face fines as high a $1,000.

Distracted driving statistics are mostly accumulated from the densely populated regions of B.C., said Cpl. Ayers.

Because the nature of accidents in the valley commonly involving wildlife and less so dense driving conditions its not as easy to determine when distracted driving was the cause, he said.

I would expect that a lot of laws come as problems associated with more densely populated areas, he said. Statistics wouldnt support the problem as it occurs in the valley.

Regardless of what prompted the changes, Cpl. Ayers is pleased to see them in place.

Those who are habitually being distracted by their cell phone arent necessarily stopping as a result of the fine, because they feel they can get away with it, said Cpl. Ayers.