Cops watching for distracted drivers

Number of rear-end collisions up 16 per cent since smartphones became popular.

By Phil Melnychuk

pmelnychuk@mapleridgenews.com

 

Pressure. Everyone’s under it.

Every phone call’s important. It must be answered. A text must be read as soon as it’s received.

Local police know about today’s demands.

But they still don’t want you answering those calls or taking those text messages when you’re behind the wheel.

And to get the message out, the six members of Ridge Meadows RCMP’s traffic unit, plus general duty officers will be paying special attention during Distracted Driving Awareness month.

“We all have different pressures on us,” said Dan Herbranson, RCMP’s civilian media coordinator.

“Nowadays, nobody phones you back. There’s lots of pressure on people.”

That could explain why people pick up their cellphone even when they know it’s dangerous and illegal to so.

To get out the message that driving and distraction don’t mix, RCMP and ICBC and SpeedWatch set up a demonstration Thursday using real-life drivers getting stopped for using cellphones.

Police were also watching for people fiddling with iPods, GPS or car stereos.

Texting or punching in an address to your GPS, “those are at the very top. That’s the most dangerous thing you can do.

“You go down to talking on your cellphone, you’re still not able to give 100 per cent attention to driving your car.

“Anything that takes away from 100 per cent attention to driving, well, that’s distraction.”

That includes people eating or drinking while driving or being engaged in involved conversations.

Police started their checks Friday in front of Pitt Meadows city hall, then moved later to a spot beneath the Golden Ears Bridge.

According to ICBC, distracted driving is the second-leading cause of fatal accidents in B.C.

And since smartphones came on to the market in 2009, the number of rear-end crashes resulting in injury or death has increased by 16 per cent.

Most rear-end crashes resulting in injuries are caused by distracted drivers, said Kate Woochuk, with ICBC.

Herbranson said that touch screens, such as those on in-vehicle GPS systems, are dangerous to use while driving.

“Any type of data entry, which includes texting while driving, is extremely risky and are forms of distracted driving.”

Police said it may be a good idea to have cellphone jamming devices in cars so they can’t be used while vehicles are in motion. But they don’t know if any such devices are on the market.

Driver penalty points for using cellphones while driving took effect last October.

“You’re four times more likely to crash if you’re on your phone. Leave it alone when you’re on the road and watch for pedestrians and cyclists,” said Woochuk.