Feature Story                                                                                       Wednesday, March 18, 2015

 

Risky Business

Distracted driving takes huge toll on BC roads

Staff/Voice photos

 

RCMP Cst. J. Mclelland, Fraser Valley Traffic Services, looks for distracted drivers on Eagle Landing Parkway Tuesday.

 

he numbers are staggering. On average, 88 people in BC lose their lives each year directly due to distracted driving.

 

It’s become such a problem in Canada that March has been Designated Distract Driving month coast-to-coast.

 

Two weeks ago, the Ontario Provincial Police announced that distracted driving has now surpassed drunk driving as the leading cause of death on the roads there.

 

On Tuesday, as part of a month-long awareness campaign, RCMP fanned out across Chilliwack looking for drivers on the phone.

 

Michael Weightman, ICBC Road Safety Coordinator for the Upper Fraser Valley, met with media on Eagle Landing Parkway as police waived down a steady stream of vehicles. At least ten drivers were given $167 tickets and 3 demerits in the first hour – proof positive that it’s an issue.

 

Some of the devices people are using behind the wheel include; personal digital assistants (PDAs); GPS; IPODs, and IPADs.

 

Weightman, who is a former RCMP officer, says most rear-end crashes now are due to drivers using a phone behind the wheel.

 

“You're four times more likely to be in a crash if you’re talking on the phone and twenty-three more times likely if you’re texting,” Weightman told The Voice.

 

According to Weightman, there are apps that will deactivate phones via GPS once the vehicle is in motion, but drivers can still call 9-1-1 without breaking the law.

 

“That's the only exception when you can use a phone while you're on the road and not be in violation, for instance, if they're following somebody who is possibly impaired.”

 

He says texting and driving became an issue about ten years ago.

 

“Back then, ICBC didn't have to deal with this problem to this degree, because you had to pay for text messaging, but once they freed up that, it seemed like everybody was texting rather than talking, and the problem exploded.”

 

Corporal Mike Rail, Media Liaison Officer with the Upper Fraser Valley Regional Detachment in Chilliwack, says that distracted driving is the number two cause of crashes in British Columbia, and one of the most dangerous things that people can do while driving.

 

“It's serious, and it's being taken seriously by the RCMP and all of our partners who are combating this. There are so many things that can be done to avoid using the electronic devices,” he says.

 

Bluetooth and hands-free devices are legal to use as long as they’re “attached” and not just sitting on the seat.

 

If an accident is due to distracted driving, Mounties will know.

 

"That would come out in the investigation,” says Rail. “Every case would be different and it would be part of the investigation to determine the cause of the crash."

 

Rail says drivers can expect to see another campaign in the fall.

 

Both Weightman and Rail say the remedy is simple — put down the phone in the car.

 

 

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