Texting and driving the focus of OPP long weekend blitz

This Labour Day long weekend the OPP will have 10 new unmarked vehicles on the road with a specific focus on catching distracted drivers.

'It's in those moments of inattention that things go wrong'

A total of 35 drivers have died on OPP-enforced highways so far this year in crashes where distracted driving was a factor. Last year, distracted driving accounted for 88 traffic deaths, according to the OPP.

It's become an end-of-summer ritual, an annual news story that airs on the Friday ahead of the Labour Day long weekend.

The OPP invites the media to a parking lot off Highway 400 in Vaughan, the route many drivers will take as they head north to enjoy the last weekend of the summer. The cameras and reporters come to hear uniformed officers talk about how police will step up patrols over the weekend and watch for impaired driving, excessive speeding and unsafe vehicles.

But this year it's different. This year the OPP will focus on a problem that killed 88 people on OPP-enforced roads last year: distracted driving. So far in 2014, 35 deaths have been linked to distracted driving and officers are looking for new ways to curb the problem.

The main culprit is electronic devices: Drivers who glance aside to read one quick text or scroll through the songs on their media player. OPP Sgt. Kerry Schmidt said drivers tend to overestimate their ability to multitask and underestimate the risks of taking their eyes off the road, even if only for a second.

All these people being killed, it's preventable. People just need to focus on the roads.- OPP Sgt. Kerry Schmidt

"People think they can look at a cellphone for a moment, but it's in that moment when you just don't know what's going to be presented in front of you," said Schmidt in an interview on CBC Radio's Metro Morning Friday. "If there's an emergency or a pedestrian, or a vehicle that's stopped or slowing, you just won't be able to respond to it."

To target the problem, Schmidt said the OPP have 10 new unmarked police vehicles on the road that will focus specifically on catching distracted drivers. The SUVs don't have the roof lights that typically tip off drivers on the lookout for unmarked police cruisers. Schmidt says most drivers won't notice these vehicles until they're in the process of being pulled over.

The OPP has 10 of these unmarked SUVs on the road to combat distracted driving. (Michelle Cheung/CBC)

"We are going to be able to get beside these vehicles and see these distractions when they happen," he said.

"We see it all the time and sadly, all these people being killed, it's preventable. People just need to focus on the roads."

Fines for distracted driving in Ontario were raised in March to $280, including surcharges, from $155. The Liberal government plans to reintroduce a bill this fall that would increase the maximum fine for distracted driving to $1,000 and three demerit points.


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