B.C.’s distracted driving penalty jumps to $543 June 1

$888 for a second offence and possible review by Superintendent of Motor Vehicles

New distracted driving scopes allow police to spot offenders 1.2 kilometres away.

The penalty for using a cell phone while driving just went up today.

Effective June 1, distracted driving offences will result in a $368 fine, and when the $175 penalty points premium by ICBC is added on for the four-penalty-point infraction, that means a minimum $543 fine for first-time offenders.

A second offence within a 12-month period drives the cost up to $888.

Just two weeks ago, B.C. Mounties unveiled a new weapon in their arsenal to catch offending drivers unaware: distracted driving scopes that allow them to see infractions up to 1.2 kilometres away.

The change in rules mean the province now regards distracted driving as a “high-risk driving offence”, on par with excessive speeding, driving without due care and attention, and driving without reasonable consideration.

Repeat offenders will have their driving record subject to automatic review by Superintendent of Motor Vehicles.

For new drivers, first-time offenders who are still driving under the graduated licensing program, face a possible prohibition of up to six months.

Judging from recent enforcement efforts, drivers don’t seem to be getting the message that using their cell phones is illegal.

Last month, officers from the BC RCMP provincial Integrated Road Safety Units doled out 264 tickets on Victoria Day weekend for distracted driving, driving without due care and attention and driving without reasonable consideration, up from 199 a year earlier.

In March, a road safety unit in Kelowna handed out 37 violation tickets for distracted driving in less than three hours.