Distracted driving convictions down on P.E.I., 'harder to catch' say police

According to numbers provided by the P.E.I. Department of Transportation, court convictions of distracted driving appear to be going down so far this year after years of steadily increasing.

RCMP say that doesn't necessarily mean people are putting down the phone

The number of convictions in P.E.I. for distracted driving appears to be doing down, but RCMP said that doesn't mean people are putting down their phones. (B.C. Government)

According to numbers provided by the P.E.I. Department of Transportation, convictions of distracted driving appear to be going down so far this year after years of increasing, but the RCMP says that doesn't necessarily mean less people are using their phones while driving. 

In 2015 there were 327 convictions, but so far in 2016, there are only 147.  

Distracted driving convictions provided by P.E.I. Department of Transportation
2010 80
2011 150
2012 258
2013 216
2014 308
2015 327
2016 (so far) 147

Harder to catch

"We find that people are hiding it more and it's harder for us to detect," said Sgt. Leanne Butler Operations NCO of Queens Detachment.

"I don't believe that the usage is going down. I think people are trying to take means to hide it so that they don't get caught and that's even more concerning for us."

That makes it harder to catch.

Don't text, even at a red light

One thing that helps is the fact that you can be charged with distracted driving if you are using your phone at a red light, something that surprises a lot of people said Butler. 

Sgt. Leanne Butler with the RCMP says people are getting better at hiding their phone usage while driving (Natalia Goodwin/CBC )

"That's the type of enforcement that we've had to try to use this year too is also to be at the red lights so that we can actually see people are using their cell phone," she explained 

Are high fines helping?

In August of 2015 the province increased the fine for distracted driving making P.E.I.'s law one of the stiffest in the country.

Fines range from $500 to $1200, but Butler says it's hard to tell if it has helped people to put the phone down. 

"When people get stopped their shocked and it may be a deterrent from that person using it again in the future," she said.

"But I believe that with our society today and the way that people are tied to their phones, they continue to use it on daily basis." 

She said when it come to determining at the scene of a crash if it has been caused by distracted driving--that too can prove difficult. 

"In those very violent crashes sometimes the cell phone is tossed around it may be tossed out of the vehicle so sometimes it's actually a little big difficult to show it was in the person's hand and they were texting at the time."

"We do believe it is a factor in collisions here on P.E.I. and they're usually very serious if you're distracted and not paying attention it is certainly a danger for yourself and others."

Butler said what's needed is more education and perhaps more shocking ad campaigns. She also thinks if more people who have been affected by distracted driving speak out it could help.