More than 200,000 tickets issued for distracted driving in B.C.
Many drivers are still using their phones behind the wheel despite hundreds of thousands of tickets
In a recent crackdown in North Vancouver on distracted drivers, there was no shortage of people seen breaking the law.
Each month this year, an average of 4,800 tickets have been written for talking, texting and other activities using electronic devices while driving.
In the North Vancouver crackdown, drivers were even given a highly visible warning before they were pulled over. Teams of volunteers stood beside the road with large signs that said, "Leave the phone alone.”
Volunteer Bev Parslow says he volunteers his time to the program “because if you're on the cellphone, the chances are you could be in an accident and kill somebody.”
Many drivers ignored the friendly reminder, but paid the price. Down the road from the volunteers, one RCMP officer took up a hidden position beside the street and then radioed ahead when he saw someone with a phone in their hands.
Other officers jumped out into traffic and pulled out their ticket books.
“You know why we're pulling you over? You had your cellphone with you,” were the first words out of North Vancouver RCMP Cpl. Richard DeJong when he pulled one driver over.
“I would say most drivers know intuitively it's wrong to have a cellphone in your hand, there seems to be a disconnect between that and knowing it's illegal," DeJong said.
"And the reason it's illegal is because it is dangerous, it ranks right up there with impaired driving for the cause of death.”
The stats tell a disturbing story
Of the 269 people killed on the roads in the last year in B.C., distracted driving led to 77 deaths. That was second only to speed, which was a factor in 78 deaths. Alcohol and drugs were blamed for 63 deaths.
In Ontario, it’s a similar story, with distracted driving related fatalities in 2013 surpassing the number of people killed due to both impairment and speed.
One of the ticketed drivers said he travels 200 to 300 kilometres a day for work and needs to answer calls while driving.
“You try pulling over as much as you can, but when that client calls, do you let it go? Because if you let that call go, you lose that money,” said the driver, who wanted to remain anonymous.
The driver said even if it means a couple of tickets a year and hundreds of dollars in fines, he probably won't give up grabbing the phone when it rings. He sees it as a cost of doing business.
That’s the type of attitude police and others worried about the problem are trying to change.
After drivers are caught in the act and pulled over, each has a different reaction. One gave out an emphatic “No!” when asked if he been using his phone, despite the police spotter saying the driver clearly had it in his right hand.
Another woman, who did not want to be identified for this story, barely let the officer say hello before she quickly confessed.
“I fully know what I've done and I fully take responsibility and I fully apologize. It's distracted driving and that's awful and you're totally right and I have kids and I should know better.”
A recent survey by Telus showed more than a third of Canadians admit they use their phone behind the wheel, even though they know it's illegal.
Texting is also a huge problem, especially for young people. The United States’ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention studied 13,000 high school students and found that among those who drive, 41 per cent had texted or emailed behind the wheel in the previous month.
Aside from police enforcement, there are a number of efforts underway to shame drivers who use their phones. Canada's insurers are running a TV campaign and even phone companies are working to stigmatize distracted drivers.
Brent Johnston is with Telus, which is promoting a thumbs-up phones-down campaign, largely on social media.
“The behaviour change takes a while to come into effect and it really has to change into something that's seen as socially unacceptable.”
Given the current numbers, though, it's still a huge uphill battle.
The experts do have a tip for you if you’re one of those people who can’t resist responding to the ring of your phone when you get a call or text. Before you fire up the engine, lock your phone in the trunk of your car.