In an otherwise bad-news year, I’d like to share something positive: no matter how you get around, 2019 was, by many measures, the safest time to be on B.C.'s roads in years.
New statistics show the numbers of police-reported crashes, overall fatalities and injuries, motorcyclist fatalities, deaths linked to high-risk driving and deaths at intersections — where 60% of crashes occur — were all at their lowest levels in at least five years.
Still, two people died on our roads every three days in 2019. On average, police cited aggressive driving as a factor in more than 14 injury crashes every day.
When police officers attend fatal crashes in B.C., top contributing factors they report are speed, distraction and impairment, in that order.
B.C. has made considerable progress against impaired driving since the 1970s. In fact, alcohol-related traffic fatalities have decreased 50% in the decade since police began issuing immediate roadside prohibitions (IRPs).
But recent national statistics show crashes involving drug-impaired driving are increasing as a proportion of overall impaired driving incidents. That's why, in B.C., we have every intention to create an IRP for drug-affected driving; we're just awaiting the development of a federally approved roadside device that can test for specific levels of drug impairment.
In the meantime, like many provinces, we've toughened penalties for drug-affected driving in ways that complement the Criminal Code provisions that Ottawa brought in before legalizing non-medical cannabis. For example, police in B.C. can now take drug-impaired drivers off the road for up to 90 days — a more serious penalty than the previous 24-hour driving prohibition. And, as of January 2020, we had the second-highest number of officers trained as drug recognition experts.
The fact that distracted driving contributes to one-quarter of fatal traffic incidents — more than impairment — is also concerning.
More than a decade ago, B.C. banned texting at the wheel. Yet, ticket volumes have remained steady, averaging 42,000 a year over the past five years.
That's why we strengthened the rules two years ago. Drivers with multiple distracted driving offences now face added and higher penalties over and above their insurance premiums, plus possible bans.
As a public safety legislator, one question you weigh before introducing any new rule is: Will it change behaviour?
It’s a question that’s been on my mind, given high-profile excessive speeding incidents during the COVID-19 pandemic, and speeding’s continued status as the most-cited factor in crash deaths.
In the last few years, my ministry has toughened penalties for high-risk driving: now, even one incident may lead to a driving ban of up to 24 months.
Electronic ticketing is helping us to more quickly identify and sanction high-risk drivers. Automated speed enforcement now operates at 35 high-risk intersections. And we’ve maintained significant fines and seven-day vehicle impoundment for excessive speeding.
Still, police continue to catch idiots driving at ridiculous speeds. It’s not just frustrating, it's deadly.
Mike Farnworth is B.C. Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General