“Put the phone down and let that text or that call wait because nothing is worth it,” said Caroline Robinson, ICBC road safety coordinator for the mid/north island.
ICBC’s distracted driving simulator made a stop in Port Alberni on March 10. Whle it was just set up for demonstrations at the RCMP detachment, Robinson said they hope to bring it into Alberni District Secondary School sometime soon.
“It’s to illustrate the dangers of distracted driving so using a handheld device like a phone or texting,” she said. “It’s very interactive so it really gets that point home in a safe environment.”
“Whether you meet a police officer on the road or the worst case scenario is to be in a crash as a result of it.”
According to Robinson, “distracted driving has overtaken impaired driving as the second leading cause of injuries and fatalities on the roads.
“That’s huge, that equates to about 12 fatalities on Vancouver Island every year,” Robinson said, adding that those are only cases in which distracted driving could be proven to be a contributing factor. The real number could be much higher.
The ubiquity of the cell phone is the greatest contributing factor.
“It’s becoming more and more of a concern because handheld devices and texting are so prevalent in our society.”
To combat distracted driving, the Port Alberni RCMP detachment has launched the Cell Watch program, Cpl. Jen Allan said.
“They’re community policing volunteers and they set up at popular intersections in town.”
With signs set up and no fines handed out (a ticket for distracted driving will cost you $168 and three points on your driver’s licence), the program isn’t meant to be hidden, it’s meant to raise awareness.
“They observe the vehicles going by and make notations when somebody is on the telephone.”
The cell phone users are then sent letters from the RCMP informing them that they’ve been caught using a phone.
Operations are done two or three times a month and Allan said that they’ve never come back with fewer than half a dozen cases of cell phone use.
“And that’s just in that small window at that location.”
Texting is the worst offender, Robinson said.
“There’s no way you can text and drive safely.”
Stop signs and intersections are where ICBC sees a lot of rear ending as drivers who think they can get away with sending a quick text find traffic starting up again faster than they thought.
“People might think it’s okay to text at a red light or a stop sign and it’s not, it’s against the law.”
It’s also incredibly dangerous.
“That’s where a lot of people take the risk because they’re stuck in traffic or the light just turned red and they think ‘I’ve got 30 seconds,’” Cpl. Mike Elston with Central Island Traffic Watch said.
A couple of years ago when Elston was doing a plain clothes distracted driving operation in Nanoose Bay he got to see just how pervasive texting is at red lights.
“I remember this one guy, he was first in line at the slow lane and the light’s green and he’s just going along, texting.”
When Elston told the driver he was going to be ticketed for using his cell phone while driving, the man was shocked.
“He was completely oblivious, he didn’t know what was going on around him.”
While legally, hands free devices are allowed for drivers with their full licence, Robinson said that the best option is to wait to take that call or send that text until you’re safely on the side of the road.
“We’re not just talking about hand held devices. Things like eating, having a dog in your lap, there’s lots of other things that can be very distracting while you’re driving.”
While drivers might think that hands free means that voice command apps and speakerphone, Elston emphasized that “hands free means hands free.”
Unrestricted drivers are allowed one touch, to start and to then end a call.
“People seem to think that using a speaker phone is hands free but what are they holding it with? Their hand.”
“I don’t know why it’s so difficult for people to understand ‘hands free’ means no hands.”
ICBC is taking the distracted driving simulator around the province.
Using a phone while it’s lying on the seat beside you may count as hands free, Elston said, but it carries its own penalties
“I would most likely write them up for driving without due care. That’s six points, $368 fine.”
While often portrayed as a teen or youth problem, Elston said offences are evenly spread out among demographics.
“We see it a lot with the 20-somethings, the 30-somethings, the 40-somethings.”
He’s always amazed by the excuses he gets.
“People will give us all sorts of reasons why they needed to use something.”
The excuses range from “it was a quick e-mail check, it was a very quick text, it was an urgent phone call.”
Elston even once had a driver tell him that he was just holding it and not using it.
“From a policing perspective most of us don’t care what your reason behind it is. If you’re using it, good enough.”
The rules are clear, Elston said, and there’s no reason good enough to have to pick up a phone.
“We’ve gone how many decades of driving without people being able to contact us and during the last five years it seems like…we have a compulsion now that we have to be available 24/7.”