Opinion

Distracted driving dragnet

Earlier this week while on patrol in his ghost car, WVPD traffic cop Sgt. Trevor James handed out six tickets for distracted driving. He wasn’t out targeting smartphone-using drivers; it was just regular patrol. And it was just that easy.

During his time in the traffic section, the veteran policeman has witnessed some preposterous driver behaviour — a driver using his elbows to steer while eating a sandwich and having a cup of coffee, for instance — but, when it comes to distracted driving, unsafe cellphone use tops the list.

“I can sit on any corner for half an hour and you are going to see multiple people on their phones,” he says.

This happens despite the fact that using an electronic device without hands-free has been banned since 2010. It comes with a $167 fine and three penalty points.

It’s illegal — and it’s dangerous.

Each year distracted driving-related crashes kill, on average, more than 90 British Columbians.

But that hasn’t stopped drivers from talking and texting.

That’s why West Van police and North Vancouver RCMP have joined with other police agencies around B.C. for the month of February in a enforcement blitz targeting distracted drivers called “Don’t Text Your Loved Ones to Death.”

“I’ve personally been to accident scenes [caused by distracted driving] and also live in an area where there’s been accidents. I’ve got a family and son that’s driving so that’s a huge concern,” says James.

“That’s why I say to my son: ‘I’m not overly concerned about your driving... but you can’t control the other driver and that’s what you’ve always got to be watching out for.’”

Taking a quick glance down at your phone to read a text or taking an incoming call might not seem as dangerous as drinking and driving or speeding but it is.

In fact, distracted driving ranks right behind the two aforementioned offences when it comes to causing deadly collisions.

In 2013, West Van police handed out 503 distracted driving tickets.

James is not surprised that drivers are still using their phones, especially given the ubiquity of smartphones in today’s culture.

“It’s like anything else. How long did it take the seatbelt law to really take hold? Where now I can set up a seatbelt check and maybe, if I’m lucky, get one or two in an hour. But you go back 10 years and you were getting more people. It took a while for people to understand and recognize there was an issue. As much as I’d like to see a huge reduction this is one that I think is going to take time….”

He is surprised, however, that more drivers aren’t adopting hands-free technology, which is readily available and relatively cheap.

“That’s what concerns me; it’s not something that’s difficult to do if you so choose to drive and use a device.”

On Tuesday evening, James and other members of the WVPD conducted an enforcement blitz on distracted driving and in two hours ticketed 19 drivers. One of the drivers had been ticketed for the same offence in the same spot a week earlier and another driver didn’t even bother putting down her phone when she was pulled over.

James realizes these blitzes alone won’t change dangerous driving behaviour.

“Enforcement only goes so far. It’s the education and, I hate to say it, it’s the accidents or the more visible ramifications of the use of something that’s prohibited,” says James.

Still, at some point, drivers who’ve seen the ads on TV and been warned of the potential fines and driving penalties need to make the decision to let a call go to voicemail and wait to pull over to reply to a text.

The police can’t patrol every roadway.

As Sgt. Dave Jewers of the North Van RCMP traffic section noted in a recent release:

“The public needs to be part of the solution by separating the activities of driving and electronic device use.”

-The Outlook

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