ICBC to test technology to thwart distracted driving

As many as 200 volunteers will test a combination of smartphone apps and hardware that together will restrict drivers’ use of devices in a pilot project taking place next year.

B.C. is moving closer to approving technology inside vehicles that would voluntarily disable the phones of drivers in return for reduced insurance rates.

Attorney General David Eby said a small number of motorists will be part of an Insurance Corp. of B.C. pilot project in early 2018 to block the use of their phones using a combination of hardware that tracks the movement of their vehicle and a smartphone app.  “ICBC has gone through a public call for technologies, they ’ve evaluated those technologies and they are identifying one or two of the best contenders for a pilot which we expect to be rolling out in the months ahead, in early 2018,” Eby said on Monday.  “I’m really excited about that, especially for new drivers, to really drive home to them to establish those good behaviours of not using their phones while driving.”

The pilot program comes amid a struggle to curtail the problem of distracted driving, which contributes to 25 per cent of fatal crashes, or an average of 78 deaths a year.

On Monday, Eby announced he would designate distracted driving a high-risk behaviour.  Eby also said the province will increase penalties by $744 for drivers who get two tickets within three years.  “The increase in fines, we hope, will send a message that distracted driving is on par with impaired driving and excessive speeding in terms of the death and destruction it causes,” he said. “And we want people to stop doing it, period.”

The additional fines will come into effect March 1.

The ICBC said in a statement that as many as 200 volunteers may participate in the distracted driving pilot test using what it calls telematics — hardware that records how a driver accelerates, brakes, turns and otherwise drives. Such information could one day inform how the insurer designates risky drivers and levies rates.

The hardware would be paired with an app that a driver would voluntarily download, which would disable the phone when the vehicle is in gear.  Eby said using telematics to combat distracted driving and inform insurance rates “has lots of good success in other jurisdictions.”

In the meantime, he suggested increased fines and further sanctions could be on the horizon if motorists don’t get the message.  “This is part of a broader suite of measures we are looking at in terms of ensuring good drivers pay less and bad drivers pay more,” he said. “There’s work we’re doing right now on the whole points system for drivers generally in the province, so it better take into consideration people’s driving behaviours in terms of the insurance rates they pay.”

The new fees announced Monday are on top of existing distracted-driving fines, which doubled in 2016 to $368 on a first ticket, as well as four penalty points on an insurance record. A second ticket increases driver penalty points premiums to $520. The new fees are part of the driver risk premium program. Both fees are separate but tied to a driver’s licence, and generally due for payment when a licence is renewed.

Multiple violations in one year will continue to result in a driver being subjected to an automatic review and penalties ranging from a three- to 12-month driving prohibition, the government said.  Drivers in the learner’s stage could lose their licence with a single offence. There are roughly 12,000 drivers in B.C. who have multiple distracted driving tickets over a three-year period.

The changes will boost ICBC revenues $2 million to $5 million, which the ICBC said will help offset basic insurance rates.  The increase in fines, we hope, will send a message that distracted driving is on par with impaired driving and excessive speeding.

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