B.C. government misleading public with statistics on speeding and cellphone use, group argues

A new video released by drivers advocacy group SenseBC is arguing that ICBC and the B.C. government are misleading the public by using selective statistics to justify enforcement campaigns and massive fine increases for drivers.

The 24-minute video produced by Chris Thompson looks at the way that the government has used statistics to argue for lowering speed limits and imposing heavy fines for cellphone-based distracted driving.

Thompson argues that in many cases the government fails to provide context behind the statistics and claims law enforcement and media reporting of accidents has contributed to the problem.

"It seems like the government and the police agencies were putting out numbers without a lot of context and the media didn't seem to be looking at them critically enough to give us a lot of perspective on what they really mean," he said.

"If you apply a bit of sense to the numbers, you realize those numbers just fall apart."

Focus on ticketing cellphone use

Thompson says, in B.C., 42 per cent of accidents each year occur in parking lots. Of the crashes that occur on roads, 59 per cent are in intersections — and yet speeding and stationary cellphone tickets are the focus of law enforcement.

The video also challenges the argument that distracted driving is deadlier in B.C. than driving while impaired, saying that statistic fails to factor in a massive increase in cellphone use in recent years and an increase in the population.

"When the government comes out and says distracted driving is now the number two cause of fatalities on B.C. roads, that's true. But that's just because the number of fatalities due to impaired driving has dropped much faster than the number of fatalities due to distracted driving," he said.

"Distracted driving fines are skyrocketing because fewer people are getting killed by drunk drivers — this makes no sense," he says in the video.

According to Thompson's research, there have been 40,000 cellphone-related tickets in recent years, with only two deaths actually related to cellphone use. The fine for distracted driving in B.C. is $368.

Over the same period there have been 100 deaths for other types of distraction, prompting fewer than 5,700 tickets.

In a written statement, Solicitor General Mike Farnworth wrote "research tells us that you're 23 times more likely to crash if you're texting at the wheel and three or four times more likely to crash if you're on the phone."

"Unfortunately, distracted driving remains a factor in more than 25 per cent of all traffic fatalities in our province. But focusing only on deaths ignores the pain endured by the thousands of people who are injured every year. [...] "It's for these reasons that we took action two years ago to make some of the toughest distracted driving penalties in Canada even tougher."

Group advocates for 'upper end of safe travel speeds'

SenseBC is a drivers advocacy group that was initially founded in the 90s to argue against photo radar in B.C.

In 2013, the group released a video arguing regulations to stop speeding were unfairly targeting safe drivers. The following year, the Liberal government increased speed limits on 33 stretches of B.C. highway, but some of those increases were rolled back by the NDP government last year.

Thompson's latest video also argues against those rollbacks, citing a UBC study that said the high speed limits were dangerous but didn't take into account factors like weather conditions.

Thompson said SenseBC is not advocating for people to drive faster or to use their cellphones while driving — but believes that speed limits should be set to reflect the upper end of safe travel speeds and that the safe actions of the reasonable majority of drivers should be legal.

"We're basically here trying to get the message out that drivers are not an unlimited cash supply for the government. We want a high standard of driving and we want safe and efficient roads but we want the general public to have the actual facts," he said.

"It's easy for people to just pick a number that they think justifies their cause ... but [then] we're going to have transportation policy that doesn't reflect the underlying conclusions of the stats and figures."

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