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ICBC and police exaggerate cellphone driving fatality numbers

The reality is few people die from driving while on the phone

ICBC and police exaggerate cellphone driving fatality numbers

Distracted driving. Sometimes it seems that’s all we ever hear about these days from police, government and ICBC. We are told that there are thousands of drivers out there ripping around with their heads firmly buried in the electronic devices on their laps, causing chaos and countless injuries and deaths wherever they strike. 

…deaths involving the use of electronic devices are the easiest to track. Evidence of using electronic devices is almost always stored digitally.

One Motor Vehicle Act violation for using your phone may trigger a driving prohibition. Get two cell phone tickets and you can expect a lengthy driving prohibition. The message is clear — use your phone behind the wheel and the government will take your licence away and force you to pay financial penalties. “Trust us,” they say. “It’s all in the name of public safety.”

We didn’t buy it.

Where were all these drivers who have killed due to cell phone use? Why don’t we see charges being laid? Why aren’t the families of those lost to distracted driving speaking? Why aren’t there Mothers Against Distracted Driving advocacy groups popping up?

What we’ve long suspected is that distracted driving, specifically the offence of using an electronic device behind the wheel, is just a cash grab. It’s a cash grab designed to look like a tough-on-crime approach to combat a dangerous driving behaviour. The reality, however, is that the data clearly shows driving while using a cell phone does not multiply the risks as claimed.

Authorities in BC such as ICBC claim 78 people die per year due to distracted driving. They imply that these numbers are in all respects tied to cell phone use. But the truth is the number of cases where someone is seriously injured or killed in a large city such as Vancouver due to using an electronic device each year is almost non-existent.


Fatalities due to drivers using electronic devices are very few

We’ve got the numbers to prove it. The BC Coroner’s Service does not report a single death in Vancouver due to a driver using an electronic device between 2008 and 2016.

How do we know? We went directly to the source. BC’s Coroners Service investigates all unnatural deaths in British Columbia to determine, among other things, the cause of death.

Given the importance of distracted driving to law enforcement, it makes sense the Coroners Service, as our government’s medical examiners, have been tracking every single case where the use of an electronic device such as a cellphone was a factor in traffic fatalities.

We asked them to provide a count of every traffic fatality where the use of an electronic device was a factor between Jan. 1, 2008 and Dec. 31, 2016.

It didn’t take long for them to get back to us. There were only 14 cases in all of British Columbia, and none in Vancouver, the most populous city. See for yourself.


But doesn’t ICBC claim there are 78 fatalities due to distracted driving annually?

An advertisement from BC Government about the dangers of driving while using a cellphone. (BC Government)

Yes, and we’re not saying ICBC is fudging the numbers here, but there’s a clear difference between “distracted driving” and “using an electronic device” while driving. The government, police and ICBC like to lump them into one to support their narrative of just how dangerous using cellphones are behind the wheel. But that’s hogwash.

ICBC’s fatal crash statistics are publicly available to see. Helpfully, they’ve also provided the source of their data. It’s called the Traffic Accident System, maintained by Injury Research BC, which obtains forms completed by police officers at collision scenes for their data. Since every fatal traffic accident is nearly guaranteed to have police attendance, the information should be pretty accurate.

It’s this data here that suggests, on average, there are 78 distracted driving deaths in British Columbia. But there’s one caveat. Their definition of “distracted driving” includes far more than just using a cellphone behind the wheel.

From the TAS Glossary:

“Evidence that the driver was using a communication/video device, was inattentive or was internally/externally distracted.”

It’s as if the police, ICBC and the government completely ignored this definition.

Perhaps this was on purpose? Because for the average BC driver, when you hear police and ICBC give warnings about distracted driving, the implication is always to put your phone down.

It’s what law enforcement campaigns are focused on. It’s about the only thing mentioned in ICBC’s page on distracted driving. The narrative has gone so far that BC Government now has the idea of giving insurance discounts to people who disable their phones while driving.

Law enforcement authorities such as the RCMP even publicly claim that texting will give you a 23-times increased risk of crashing.

But then you see more evidence of misleading messaging. All you have to do is check where RCMP got their numbers, you’ll see they chose a study that examined truck drivers of long-haul vehicles, a group of drivers fundamentally different from the average commuter likely to be caught on their phone while waiting at a red light.

Sadly, it’s just another example of police and government fear-mongering.


Daydreaming far more dangerous than using a cellphone while driving

There’s nothing like justifying increased penalties for an offence you’re trying to push as a huge cause of fatalities. (BC Government)

We think it’s important to consider what distracted driving means. Sure, it could mean using a cellphone or electronic device, but when the definition includes any internal or external distraction, or any evidence that the driver was being inattentive, the number of cases seem enormous.

According to the Coroners data, there were 14 electronic-device deaths over the course of 2010 to 2016 (there were no deaths in 2008 and 2009), or about two deaths on average, per year. Subtract that from ICBC’s 78 distracted-driving fatality figure, and you start to see that the vast majority of these deaths had nothing to do with using an electronic device at all.

Perhaps there was evidence the driver was stressed, had a lot on their mind and was inattentive. Perhaps there was evidence the driver was eating a cheeseburger while driving. Perhaps the driver dropped their cigarette on the seat, and was trying to retrieve it. Perhaps the family pet suddenly jumped into the front seat. There are so many possibilities.

Critics might say that the Coroners data can hardly be conclusive. Not all cases of deaths related to the use of electronic devices can be properly tracked.

We would argue that deaths involving the use of electronic devices are the easiest to track. Evidence of using electronic devices is almost always stored digitally.

An example would be text messages, calls or Internet history with specific time stamps. Or a police officer noticing a video left playing on a person’s screen in the aftermath of the crash. Perhaps there’s witness testimony from passengers or passersby, who may have noticed the person had their head down or was glancing at their device before the crash.


We’re not saying using cellphones behind the wheel is safe

There is an element of danger. We recognize it. As far as we can tell, two people die in BC each year because of it. Those are two deaths each year that a little education may have prevented. What we are saying, though, is that the level of enforcement and the expense that government has put into this is way beyond what this offence deserves.

Do not use an electronic device while driving. It’s the law.

And we even agree that using your cell phone while driving poses a safety risk. It’s just not as much as risk as the government and the police are saying. It’s just not the cause of injury and death that the government is convinced we must believe. It’s just not enough reason to place increasingly steep penalties on British Columbian drivers.



We shared what we learned with local media and enjoyed some very interesting conversations. Here are links to some of their stories.

ICBC and police exaggerate cellphone driving fatality numbers was last modified: by


  • lluf enam
    Reply January 30, 2018 at 12:17 pm

    Interesting article. I suspect the bulk of all traffic accidents that are not caused by mechanical failure or excessive speed happen because of some form of distraction. Electronic devices are just one source of distraction amongst many with driving while impaired compounding the matter..

  • Bart hemoglobin
    Reply January 30, 2018 at 3:08 pm

    If it were really such a huge problem the police would be compelled to stop multi tasking while they are driving. Using their computes, cell phones and police radios is no safer just because you claim they are “trained”. At the end of the day it once again has nothing to do with public safety.

  • Kristina
    Reply January 30, 2018 at 3:12 pm

    Your article doesn’t even mention the fact that a study conducted in 2013 found that children in the back seat can be up to 12 times more distracting than talking on a cell phone.

  • AF
    Reply January 30, 2018 at 3:39 pm

    Not only does this seem like a cash grab, it also reeks of elitism. Look at most modern luxury cars sold in the last 5 years. Many have complex and complicated interfaces that include GPS, phone connectivity, radio, etc. Look at a Tesla for example. It has a screen larger than most laptops, where everything related to the car is controlled through its interface. A driver can even surf the web while driving in a Tesla! I wonder how many distracted driver tickets these drivers, and drivers of Audis, BMW, Mercedes, etc have received while using their complex, distraction-prone interfaces. And if you don’t believe my assertions, take a look online for reviews of these cars and notice how complex they’ve become, with some commentators/reviewers also pointing to the danger of such interfaces.

  • s, wilson
    Reply January 30, 2018 at 4:20 pm

    I was pulled over and issued a ticket for using a electronic e-cig in Victoria BC.

  • Bob
    Reply January 30, 2018 at 4:33 pm

    Not one person has died in the past 9 years due to accidents caused by cell phone distraction? Use your heads people. I for one have seen more accidents based of trivial mistakes on the road in Vancouver than anywhere else in my life. Half the people in Vancouver can’t drive to begin with and we are meant to believe that if they were to use a cell phone it would not impede their skill / concentration even more? I’d like to see everyone’s opinion on the issue if one of their loved ones died as a result of some asshole who couldn’t wait 20 minutes to text his friend.

  • Jag Mann
    Reply January 30, 2018 at 7:49 pm

    I’m glad the police are enforcing this . It’s not like there are innocent 15 year olds getting shot by errant bullets, we don’t have a fentanyl crisis, we don’t have low level gangsters shooting each other, and this is a clear priority. I’m happy to see that the rigorous training the men and women in blue is being put to good use. Keep up the good work!!

  • Richard Burke
    Reply January 30, 2018 at 8:21 pm

    The reason we will always have arguments over traffic laws is simply because the government falsely uses safety as a sales pitch to scam you out of as much money as they possibly can. Knowing all the while you will “pay up” because driving is a nessasary part of most peoples lives and without a car you would likely lose everything!

    They will never stop anyone from driving that causes multiple accidents because they do NOT care if you can drive or if you’re a legitimate threat to the safety of everyone around you; they just need to make sure that the cash keeps flowing!.

  • Les Jackson
    Reply January 30, 2018 at 8:33 pm

    “Don’t do it…it’s the law.” That’s all the justification I need for the steep penalties. And repeat offenders should be absolutely HAMMERED. THAT is what this province needs. THAT is what ICBC needs…

  • Deja Vu
    Reply January 30, 2018 at 10:57 pm

    Kind of a conflict of interest here. This law firm make money from people charged with criminal driving charges – that includes DUI, and without undo care and attention….. so it is in their best interests to say – go ahead drive and text. It doesn’t result in distracted driving. If you get in an accident, be sure to call them.

  • Tony vee
    Reply January 31, 2018 at 8:03 am

    I’m getting the impression some ICBC employees are posting here .

    • Robert Pestes
      Reply February 1, 2018 at 8:26 am

      Very likely. It’s all about managing the public spin to keep the steep fines looking justified.
      Plus law and order is always an easy sell, especially combined with the safety argument.

  • Robert J. MacDonald
    Reply January 31, 2018 at 10:18 am

    Mr. Paul Doroshenko, you have represented me twice successfully I might add, and I have been a fan of yours and all the people that work at the Acumen Law Corporation, my humble thanks for not only helping myself but for all the stellar work you and all the lawyers at Acumen Law Corporation do for the people of British Columbia.

    Robert “Bob” MacDonald

  • Jeff lewko
    Reply January 31, 2018 at 1:02 pm

    I personally was hit from behind by someone on a phone when slowing down to turn left, wrote off my cbr and sent me flying down the road 30 feet, then off to the hospital, over a month of pain and the effects still impacting my life, yup witness driving behind him said the man who hit me was on the phone at the time, didn’t lose my life, but i could have, thanks to my full face and full riding suit or the damage to my body could well have been worse, cell phone use can and does cause accidents, you have you head in the sand.
    WAKE UP!

  • Larry Hamblin
    Reply January 31, 2018 at 2:03 pm

    This just goes to prove my theory that our “So Called Politicians” are just Liars, Cheats and Thieves. The politicians don’t know the truth and just spew lies when talking out the side of their mouth. They are only interested in finding “Greedy Cash Grabs” to cover their ass from the stupid decisions they make with our taxpayer money. The current Liberals running for power of their their party are just cheats, just look at the dishonesty of signing up potential new Liberal Members. I joined the Liberal Party in my attempt to stop dishonest politicians like De Jong, Stone and Wilkinson. Everyone should speak up about the dishonest information being spewed by ICBC, the Police and the Government with respect to distracted driving. The problem with ICBC, BC Hydro and the Government is nothing but total mismangement and lack of ethics and knowledge.

  • Barbara Mooney
    Reply January 31, 2018 at 9:33 pm

    The problem is the Graduated Licensing Program. As ICBC again produces fake statistics in regards to the reduction in accidents since the GLP was introduced. The GLP took an entire year of demographic off the road, ages 16-17. They have drastically reduced the amount of practice time young learners get. Drivers getting there Class 7 (N) are not tested on the highway. This test only occurs when a driver takes their Class 5, yet there is no mandate to ever get your Class 5 within a certain period of time. Four years ago I wrote letter after letter to the Superintendent of Motor Vehicles asking haw many Class 7 driver there were in BC. I finally got a response of 32,000. (I don’t believe this number and feel it likely much higher.) So we have at least 32,000 drivers out on our roads that have never been tested on the highway but have no restrictions as to where they can drive. In small communities like mine, a majority of youth move to large cities in Bc and Alberta. They have only a year of driving experience and again have never been tested on the highway. Vital skills needed in large cities with freeways. The GLP is a complete failure. ICBC should reinstate getting a learners at 14 to allow youth the practice time they need to become skilled drivers, as parents are so busy, the time it takes to get the practice in is extended much more in todays world. The GLP has only benefited one party, the government and ICBC. As an ICBC Certified Driving Instructor, with my GLP designation, in my opinion, this is one of the major reasons for the increase in crashes. The GLP has only been one thing…A complete cash cow!!

  • Robert Pestes
    Reply February 1, 2018 at 8:17 am

    Very illuminating. ICBC does a similar statistical slight of hand with speeding numbers. Driving too fast for conditions is a serious charge meaning driving at or below the posted speed limit but in the opinion of the police officer still to fast for prevailing road conditions. These offences are lumped in with speeding against a highway sign; or over the posted limit. It makes speeding appear much more prominently in crash fatalities than the numbers warrant.

  • Jay Seams
    Reply February 1, 2018 at 5:19 pm

    Let’s all be clear here. There are stats on both sides of the issue. Each can cancel out the other. The underlying question is are these laws and arrests a ‘cash grab’ or are they enforced to keep our people safe? I see horrible drivers on the road that should have never obtained a driver license to begin with – let alone driving while ‘distracted’. It is the position of ICBC to give everyone a license – and then ticket them when they obstruct any law put forth? Not only the cost of a ticket, but a rise in insurance rates keeps the ICBC machine operational.

    Without any clear statistics or a civilians right to a fair and proper explanation of circumstance – we are left with a system that allows ICBC and the police to determine what is considered ‘distracted driving’. The more tickets the better. Tickets pay for everyone’s salary. But at what point do we decide that this is a breach of our rights? I pay my insurance, drive by the rules, and adhere to the laws. But if I pick up my phone at a red light I can be ticketed, forced to pay a penalty and my insurance rates go up for years to come. At the same red light I might notice a driver half asleep, or another smoking weed, or another driving with road rage because someone was driving to slowly for their preference.

    At what point do we decide something is wrong – and something is fine? In my opinion, ICBC and the police claim something is wrong when they can clearly ticket you and process payment. It is much harder to fine or prosecute someone for driving erratically because of road rage than it is to point out someone has a phone in their hand. Which driver is worse? I guess we know the answer to that. The answer is the one you can easily get money from. It has NOTHING to do with keeping our roads safer.

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