New Brunswick

Distracted driving message isn't getting through, police say

Fredericton drivers are not getting the message about the dangers of distracted driving as police say the number of tickets are not dropping.

Police officer has seen drivers using cellphone for online banking and Facebook while in traffic

The Fredericton Police Department says the number of tickets issued for distracted driving has increased compared to last year.

Fredericton drivers are not getting the message about the dangers of distracted driving, as police say the number of tickets is not dropping.

Const. Patrick Small said most people have a cellphone and they're attached to that cellphone even when it should be safely out of reach.

"They're always sending messages … I feel as though because they use it so often, they feel so comfortable with it, that they feel as though they can drive and use the phone at the same time," he said.

In 2015, between June 1 and Sept. 1, police handed out 105 tickets to drivers for using handheld electronic devices.

During the same stretch in 2016, 130 tickets were issued to offenders, according to the department's statistics.

When Small heads out on duty, he said he knows it will be only a matter of minutes before he catches his first law breaker.

Policing the roads for cellphone users is one of his specialties. Small said no matter how often motorists are warned, they still aren't getting the message.

Small also volunteers to be a plainclothes officer, standing by the side of the road during operations and watching for distracted driving.

He said many people wouldn't believe the things motorists try to get away with when they're behind the wheel.

Common misconceptions

Fredericton Police Const. Patrick Small has seen drivers checking Facebook and accessing online banking while behind the wheel. (CBC)

He said one common misconception drivers have is that when a vehicle is stopped at a light or in heavy traffic, it is not illegal to pull out their handheld devices and use them.

They're wrong, Small explained.

"I've seen people using electric razors to shave. I've seen people putting on lipstick, curling their eyelashes, applying mascara, reading newspapers, eating a bowl of cereal and I've seen people reading a book," he said.

Small said those examples may not be the same as trying to use an electronic handheld device behind the wheel, but all of them take the driver's eyes off the road and their concentration away from driving. 

During patrols in the city, Small said he has also watched people take their phones out and check Facebook or write up their grocery list.

On one foot patrol, he came up alongside a car on Regent Street and watched the driver do his online banking in the car.

"I stood there watching and there was somebody logging into their Scotiabank app," Small said.

When a vehicle is in traffic, Small gets the driver to pull over to the side of the road.

"I'm able to speak with them safely and I just let them know that the reason they're being stopped is for using a hand-operated electronic device. I obtain their documents and I write a ticket," he said.

Tickets don't come cheaply

A ticket for using an electronic handheld device behind the wheel will cost a driver $172.50 as well as three demerit points on their licence.

Some people try to deny any wrongdoing until Small tells them he can identify the colour of the phone they are using and the name of the bank they have been accessing.

An offence doesn't come cheap.

Small said a ticket for using an electronic handheld device behind the wheel will cost the driver $172.50 as well as three demerit points on their licence.

So, for many drivers, the cellphone tickets have become an annoyance.

"The $172.50 fine to a lot of people, it's the price of doing business," Small said.

"A lot of the people that we see out there using their cellphones are people that work from their vehicle. So, contractors, real estate agents, really anybody that works out of their vehicle as their office. They're not the only ones, but they're quite a common one that we see."

Small said the cellphone offenders are also more likely to be older drivers, despite the impression some people have that young people would be more likely to talk on their phones while driving. 

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