RCMP scoping out distracted drivers this long weekend — from 1.2 kilometres away

The long arm of the law now has a super long lens to catch distracted drivers — from as far as 1.2 kilometres away.

Scope attaches to a 24.2 megapixel DSLR camera fitted with a standard 50 mm lens

These scopes are being used by RCMP in B.C. to spot distracted drivers long before they can spot the police. (RCMP)

The long arm of the law now has a super-long lens to catch distracted drivers — from as far as 1.2 kilometres away.

RCMP in B.C. are rolling out the powerful new lenses over the May long weekend, aimed at catching drivers texting or otherwise being distracted while behind the wheel.

"Absolutely, we've got a viewing distance greater than 1,200 metres," Const. Melissa Wutke said on The Calgary Eyeopener.

The scopes are "strategically placed division-wide in B.C.," she added.

"Traffic services have used spotting scopes for years but the new part of this technology is now we have a spotting scope we can actually attach a DSLR camera with 24.2 megapixels and a 50-millimetre lens," Wutke said.

"So we attach that camera to our scope and that allows us to see 1,200 metres."

That lets officers spot drivers long before drivers are able to see them, especially if the driver's eyes are on their mobile device rather than the road in front of them.

Like police paparazzi 

"It's not always safe or it doesn't always make sense to stand where drivers can see us," said Wutke.

"So we'll stand back where we're not necessarily being noticed right off the bat and we'll train the scope on the windshield of the vehicle so as vehicles are coming up, stopped at a light or stopped at a stop sign, we can be looking inside that vehicle and then, when we see a violator, we can have them pulled over once they're back on their way again."

Wutke said the scopes will be trained on vehicles stopped at lights and signs rather than when they're hurtling down the highway.

"We have it trained on a set location because we're looking so far down the road it would be difficult to catch the moving vehicles," she said.

"When [an officer] sees a violator they can snap a still shot then radio to another officer to pull that vehicle over."

The phone has to be visible in the photo for a ticket to stand up in court, said Wutke.

"We would have to see that electronic device in the picture, however, if I am the officer operating that scope from 800 metres back and I see somebody looking down at their lap, we will have an officer sometimes who will be close to that intersection where the officer can simply walk out and have a look and if they see the electronic device that person will be waved out of traffic and issued a violation ticket."

Not just texting and driving 

The penalty for distracted driving in B.C. is going up June 1 to $543 for a first offence and $888 for a second one.

And it's not just electronic devices police will be looking for.

"Putting on makeup, eating a bowl of cereal, reading a novel — we see all sorts of things as people are sitting in traffic," said Wutke.

"Ultimately we're doing this in the effort of safety. We want everybody to get to their destination safe and distraction has become a real problem."

Over the May long weekend last year, Wutke said police in B.C. handed out more than 200 distracted driving tickets for drivers using phones alone. 

With files from The Calgary Eyeopener