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B.C. police launch distracted driving blitz as tough new penalties take effect

NDP government to institute tougher penalties for distracted driving
WATCH: NDP government to institute tougher penalties for distracted driving

Tough new penalties for distracted driving took effect on Thursday, and ICBC and police have launched a blitz to catch text-addicted drivers in the act.

B.C.’s new Driver Risk Premium is now in place; it’s a program that will ding drivers extra when they pay for their insurance if they’re caught using electronic devices.

Repeat offenders now face escalating penalties, with a driver caught twice in three years seeing a nearly $2,000 penalty in fines and points.

READ MORE: Vancouver cops catch distracted driver twice in 8 minutes, issue $736 in fines

ICBC has pinned an average of 78 deaths on B.C. roads every year on distracted driving, and has argued that electronic devices are the most common cause of that distraction.

“Distracted driving endangers the lives of British Columbians with devastating effects for families and communities. It also puts significant pressure on insurance rates,” Attorney General David Eby said in a statement.

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“Improving road safety is key to creating a sustainable auto insurance system with more affordable rates for B.C. families.”

In addition to ramping up increased distracted driving checkpoints, police are also testing out more powerful scopes to catch drivers in the act.

READ MORE: Vancouver police astounded after pulling over distracted driver with tablet, phone attached to steering wheel

Is this the worst case of distracted driving ever?
Is this the worst case of distracted driving ever?

Supt. Davis Wendell, officer in charge of RCMP E Division Traffic Services, said police have issued more than 300,000 distracted driving tickets in the last eight years, and that curbing the habit won’t be easy.

“When you look at what we’ve done as a society around things like pollution or recycling, they’re an evolutionary change. And it’s going to take a little bit of time, but there’s not time any longer,” he said.

“We know it’s dangerous, and we know it costs lives and we’re taking action. But the backswing of it really comes from a cultural change starting with our young people.”

READ MORE: Vancouver Police issue almost 2K distracted driving tickets in Sept.

The new penalties are a part of ICBC’s effort to stem massive financial losses linked to an increase in crashes, court costs and financial payouts.

The province has already moved to cap pain and suffering payouts for minor soft tissue damage, and is preparing further ICBC changes that would penalize bad drivers while rewarding those with a good record behind the wheel.

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The province is set to launch a new campaign on Monday to ask the public to help define exactly what a “bad driver” is, and how much more they should pay.