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Public Safety Minister loses driver's licence over speeding tickets

British Columbia's top cop will be hitching rides for the rest of the election campaign.

Public Safety Minister John van Dongen announced Friday that his driver's licence has been suspended for speeding.

The lead-footed Liberal cabinet minister said he got a letter from the Office of the Superintendent of Motor Vehicles notifying him of the suspension.

Van Dongen said he mailed his driver's licence in to the office and won't be appealing the decision.

"I fully understand and accept responsibility for my driving behaviour and believe it is my duty to fully and completely comply with the decision," van Dongen said in a statement.

"I fully recognize the importance of public safety and compliance with the law on our roads. The law applies equally to me as it does to everyone else and I strongly support that."

The minister, whose responsibilities include the Insurance Corp. of B.C. and the Office of the Superintendent of Motor Vehicles, said he's asked the premier to assign another minister responsibility for the Crown auto insurance company or the motor vehicles branch.

The government announced Friday that the two departments had been transferred to the Labour Ministry, effective immediately.

Premier Gordon Campbell said the suspension was probably embarrassing for his minister and admitted that van Dongen's penchant for putting the pedal to the metal caught him by surprise.

"I don't know about everyone's driving record. If we said to people 'if you have any driving infractions you're not eligible to run for office,' we'd have a pretty small legislature," Campbell told reporters.

He commended van Dongen for being up front and protecting the integrity of his ministry.

"It's not like he hasn't paid his tickets. He's done that," Campbell said.

Drivers get a warning letter if they rack up nine to 14 driving demerit points, said Mark Jan Vrem, manager of media relations for the Insurance Bureau of British Columbia. After that, it's an escalating series of driving bans.

"Fifteen to 19 points will trigger a prohibition that runs from three to 12 months, 20 to 24 points the prohibition is from four to 18 months and 25 to 49 points is five to 24 months," Vrem said. "Also, if you get two convictions for excessive speeding (40 kilometres over the limit), that'll also trigger a driving prohibition that can range from three to 18 months."

Vrem said speeding drivers also must pay more to renew their licences and have a driver's risk premium added to their auto insurance.

Van Dongen, who represents the Abbotsford-Clayburn riding, is seeking his fifth election victory in the May 12 vote.

Dene Moore reports for The Canadian Press.

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