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Distracted Driving: Should it Be a Criminal Offence?

Distracted Driving

Distracted driving essentially entails operating a vehicle while being engaged in other activities, be they visual, manual, or cognitive. Talking to a passenger, staring out at the scenery, eating or drinking, and especially using a phone are all examples of what might take a driver’s eyes or mind off of the road ahead.

The proliferation of smart phones, giving us the ability to talk, text, or read anywhere at anytime, has changed the nature of distracted driving, turning it into one of the most dangerous road issues of our day. People who engage in texting while driving are about twenty three times more likely to have an accident than those who are not – so it is safe to say that the danger is undeniable.

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There are punishments in the form of fines and demerit points for this transgression, but should it be a criminal offence? Current laws, trends, and data need to be taken into account first before a consensus can be reached.

Current Laws: Hefty Fines

Distracted driving is a national issue. Each province has enacted laws to counter this act, and being caught driving with a hand-held cell phone carries some hefty fines and other penalties, as outlined below.

Hand-Held Cell Phone Legislation in Canada

Province Fine Demerits Into Effect
British Columbia $167 3 February 2010*
Alberta $172 None September 2011
Saskatchewan $280 4 June 2014
Manitoba $200 5 July 2015
Ontario $300 – $1000 3 Fall 2015
Quebec $115 – $145 4 April 2015
Newfoundland and Labrador $100 – $400 currently
($45 – $180 originally)
4 April 2003
Prince Edward Island $250 – $400 3 October 2010
Nova Scotia $233.95 first offence
$348.95 second offence
$578.95 subsequent offences
4 February 2015
New Brunswick $172.50 3 June 2011
Yukon $250 3 April 2011
Northwest Territories $322 3 January 2012
Nunavut Nothing at this time

 

As you can see, being caught with your cell phone means paying a lot of money in penalties, and receiving demerit points on your license. But is it enough?

Trends in Canada

According to recent data, the amount of Canadian drivers who have admitted to using their phones while driving – for whatever purpose – is actually quite low in comparison to other countries and other times in recent history, so it is safe to say that the penalties have at least made people think twice. As we delve deeper, the statistics paint a startling picture.

80% of accidents are caused by distracted driving in some way or another, and in British Colombia alone, they accounted for 104 fatalities in 2010. In terms of kilometers driven, Canada has the 3rd highest fatality rate per billion kilometers on the planet. On top of this, economic losses due to distracted driving totaled over $10 billion dollars. That’s nearly 1% of our nation’s GDP.

The data is clear – distracted driving dangerous to the driver of the vehicle, it is extremely dangerous for other drivers, not to mention pedestrians. Current penalties are becoming more severe across the provinces, but none have enacted criminal penalties as of yet. Usage is down, yet fatalities and dangers remain high. The loss of life, productivity, and money is palpable, and doesn’t show signs of slowing down.