Still too many young drivers dying: coroner

Government rejects return to photo radar, agrees to review graduated licence system as teen males continue high-risk behaviour

B.C. Chief Coroner Lisa Lapointe

B.C.’s chief coroner has called on the B.C. government to look for ways to strengthen its graduated licensing system for young drivers and consider a pilot project of electronic speed enforcement in high-risk areas to reduce the number of young people who die in car crashes.

The B.C. Coroners’ Service reviewed all 106 deaths of young drivers between 2004 and 2013, finding that speed, impairment or lack of seatbelt use were contributing factors in most cases. While the death rate for drivers aged 16 to 18 has declined by two thirds since 2008, it remains the leading cause of death for the age group, with teenage boys aged 17 and 18 at greatest risk of death or injury.

Attorney General Suzanne Anton said the government has no intention of returning to photo radar for speed enforcement, but she will examine the recommendation to test a “speed on green” function for intersection cameras that could identify excessive speeding in areas of high accident risk.

Transportation Minister Todd Stone said the last review of B.C.’s stricter licence system for new drivers showed a 28 per cent reduction in crashes involving young drivers, but that was in 2006.

“It hasn’t been reviewed since, so I think it’s a very practical suggestion on the part of the coroner’s office to take a look at the program and see if there are some means to further strengthen it,” Stone said.

The coroners’ analysis showed 68 of 106 drivers were at the “novice” stage when they died. Of those, 18 had consumed alcohol and seven were driving with too many passengers who were not family members, and without a supervisor.

There were 14 deaths of young drivers with a learner’s licence, the first stage of the graduated system. Of those, 11 were driving with no supervisor, 10 had consumed alcohol, three were driving during restricted hours and two had more than one non-supervisor passenger in the vehicle.

Distraction by mobile phone use was found to be a factor in only one case.

Chief Coroner Lisa Lapointe said better data collection on accidents would help understand the risks. In many of the cases reviewed, the posted speed limit at the scene was not recorded, and the number of drivers who took driving lessons other than the ICBC-approved course was also not known.