Local crackdown on distracted driving eyed

mobile communication devices has made communications easier, but is also making the roads increasingly more dangerous

The proliferation of mobile communication devices in the past decade has made communications easier, but is also making the roads increasingly more dangerous — a trend B.C. residents are concerned about, according to a recent provincial government consultation.

The provincial Ministry of Justice wrapped up its four-week public consultation on distracted driving last week, receiving more than 10,000 submissions, many of them heartfelt and with strong opinions, and most of them pointing to phones and other mobile devices as a significant problem.

“It’s on the rise here in the valley. We’re seeing more and more of it. It’s pretty bad,” said Columbia Valley RCMP Staff Sergeant Marko Shehovac. “People just don’t seem to get it, that it’s not a smart thing to do. Probably the only way they will get it is if they (the provincial government) increase the fines or allow us to impound vehicles.”

The current fine for distracted driving in B.C. is $167 and three penalty points taken off the offender’s driver’s licence.

“It’s getting to the point where soon we might have to do a blitz, go downtown and ticket everybody we catch. We are contemplating that kind of crackdown. It’s (distracted driving) certainly a cause for accidents. In that respect it’s right up there with impaired driving,” said Mr. Shehovac.

Distracted driving is more than simply talking on a phone — it encompasses texting, fiddling with iPods or even simply using a phone to check what time it is.

“If you have an electronic device, almost any electronic device, in your hands, that constitutes distracted driving,” said Mr. Shehovac, adding that although the Motor Vehicle Act contains exemptions for police officers, allowing them to, for instance, talk to the victim of a domestic abuse incident on the phone while driving to the scene, he still encourages his staff to pull over to the side of the road when using mobile devices in all cases except

emergencies.

Mr. Shehovac told The Echo that just the previous week he had been sitting in a marked police cruiser at an intersection in Invermere and watched as a woman drove right through while chatting on her phone, completely oblivious to the fact that a police officer was even there, until he pulled her over.

“How much more distracted does it get? I was sitting right there in plain view and she didn’t have a clue I was there. They are increasingly finding that when people are talking on their phones, their minds are not on the driving. This woman I stopped is living proof of that,” he said.

Mr. Shehovac said that because B.C. had distracted driving laws before Alberta, in the past some Alberta drivers would plead ignorance when pulled over for such an offence, but now that both provinces have similar laws, that excuse just doesn’t wash.

The consultation carried out by the Ministry of Justice found that more than 90 per cent of the 10,000 submissions respondents said they were concerned about distracted driving, that more than 90 per cent of respondents felt distracted driving fines should increase and that 96 per cent of respondents felt drivers who have had multiple distracted driving tickets should face greater sanctions.

“British Columbians have clear and passionate views about all forms of distracted driving. They deserved to be heard, and I thank everybody who participated for their candour. Our government will carefully review their feedback and champion new, tougher approaches against distracted driving that are effective, defensible and fair. Over the past five years, police across B.C. have provided strong enforcement of our existing distracted driving laws, and we absolutely want to support their continued vigilance with any new measures we introduce,” said B.C. Attorney General and Minister of Justice Suzanne Anton in a press release on the consultation.

RoadSafety BC will complete its analysis of the consultation submissions and will likely make recommendations about new sanctions this fall. The province anticipates finalizing new measures by spring 2016, and potentially earlier depending on the outcome of the analysis.

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