ICBC announces plans to test devices to curb distracted driving

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ICBC has announced plans to test two new devices – one for drivers and one for police – that it hopes may deter people from texting or talking on a cellphone while behind the wheel.

“The point of all of this is to drive down the number of collisions, to prevent the number of accidents and to save lives,” Attorney General David Eby said Tuesday.

“We want to really send the message to British Columbia that this has to stop and there has to be a cultural shift in British Columbia.”

ICBC said it will launch the first pilot project in January. It plans to recruit 200 drivers to install an app on their smartphones.

The app communicates with a device plugged into a port in the vehicle and blocks the phone from being used when the device senses that the car is moving.

Eby, who is responsible for ICBC, said the corporation researched standalone apps on the market, but concluded they were insufficient to prevent distracted driving.

“The app paired with the plug-in in the car appears to be a technology that will provide more certainty around ensuring that people are not using their phone when they’re driving,” he said.

Drivers who are interested in taking part in the pilot project can sign up on ICBC’s website.

If the test is successful, Eby said, the government will consider requiring new drivers to use the devices in order to get their learner’s or novice permit.

“If you want to move on through the graduated licensing system, you might have to install the app and have this fob installed in your car to ensure you’re not using your phone when you’re driving,” he said.

Eby said the technology could also be applied to people repeatedly ticketed for distracted driving, or offered to individuals who volunteer to use the app in exchange for a break on their insurance premiums.

Meanwhile, ICBC is working with the government and police to test a $14,000 camera targeting drivers using smartphones.

The camera, equipped with Bluetooth, allows police to immediately share photos with other officers in the area.

Police can then pull the driver over and show them the picture.

“We hope that this will assist in two respects,” Eby said.

“One is that it will encourage police to do increased enforcement of distracted driving.

“The second is that it will provide instant feedback to drivers, as well as evidence, in the event that the driver challenges the police version of events or challenges the ticket.”

Solicitor General Mike Farnworth said distracted driving kills more people on B.C. roads every year than impaired driving.

“That is just a shocking statistic, and we’re taking it seriously, along with other provinces,” he said.

“And these measures today are another tool in the arsenal, if these pilots prove successful, to deal with the scourge that is distracted diving.”

ICBC says distracted driving kills an average of eight people a year on Vancouver Island, based on police statistics from 2011 to 2015.

Times Colonist