Although it’s been illegal since 2008 to text while driving, police say many Montrealers still refuse to put down their cell phones when they’re behind the wheel.

“We’ve handed out 783 tickets  just our downtown division,” said René Bellemare, a lieutenant with the Montreal police force.

CBC reporter Leah Hendry got to ride along with Montreal traffic police, and it took only a few minutes to find one motorist clutching his cell phone in his hands as he steered the wheel with his knees.

Others texted or checked their email while they were stopped at a traffic light.

“If you are in the traffic lane and you are not legally parked, you are not allowed to have it in your hand. You can’t touch your screen,” Bellemare said.

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In Quebec, texting while driving became illegal in 2008. (CBC)

It’s a habit police officers say is very dangerous.

“When they’re having a good conversation, their mind is not on the wheel anymore. They are somewhere else - and it can be very dangerous,” said Sylvain Larose, an officer with the Montreal police traffic division.

“Driving at 50 km/h, just think  if you're distracted just two or three seconds  how much territory you've covered, particularly downtown,” said the division’s inspector André Durocher.

A violation costs drivers $120 and three demerit points.

But some say the province should come down even tougher on offenders.

“In some U.S. states, drivers lose their licence after 3 infractions,” said Bellemare, adding that educating drivers about the dangers of texting and driving is also necessary.