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Drivers not getting the message about the risk of texting while driving

Caroline Robinson, Comox Valley ICBC road safety coordinator, said they are reminding drivers about the hazards of using cellphones while behind the wheel. - Michael Briones / Echo Staff
Caroline Robinson, Comox Valley ICBC road safety coordinator, said they are reminding drivers about the hazards of using cellphones while behind the wheel.
— image credit: Michael Briones / Echo Staff

Distracted driving is a serious problem and is responsible for more than one quarter of all car crash fatalities in British Columbia.

The message, however, is still not getting through despite the increase in fines and the well-established fact that it is dangerous.

Last week the Comox Valley RCMP was out with representatives from ICBC and Comox Valley volunteers for the Annual Distracted Driving Campaign, the first of two this year. The next campaign is in September.

Caroline Robinson, Comox Valley ICBC road safety coordinator, said they are reminding drivers about the hazards of using cellphones while behind the wheel.

"I can't emphasize enough how important it is to put that phone away," said Robinson. "You don't need to be using it while you are driving."

More than 800 crashes occur every day in B.C., many of these caused by distracted driving, which has become the second leading cause of car crash fatalities in BC.

"You're five times more likely to crash if you are using your phone," said Robinson. "And distracted driving contributes one in four deaths on BC roads."

Fines for distracting driving has increased drastically. For the first offence is $543. If you are charged the second time in the same year, it is going to be $888. A third offence will cost more than $3,000.

"If that's a motivating factor, for you it's something to take into consideration," said Robinson. "Really, this is all about the safety our our roads and it's just not worth taking the chance. We would like everyone to put the phone away and leave the phone alone."

Const. Perry Snyder said the worse offending place where he has seen drivers using their phones is at the 17th Street Bridge.

"If you guys are down there on busy hours, pull in to the left lane and come around the corner and just look at all the people sitting just like this playing with their cellphones," said Snyder.

If you are holding the cellphone, an iPod or GPS, Snyder said you are in contravention of the law. If they are affixed to the dashboard, it is then legal, and you may touch it, he explained.

"But once you pick it up, you're in contravention of the section and subject to the fine," said Snyder.

The attitude hasn't changed, said Snyder. There was one month, Snyder said,when their three-man section nailed over a hundred distracted drivers..

"We weren't working at it very hard," said Snyder. "It's not like we stopped everything else and just wrote distracted driving tickets. In addition to the regular enforcement that we did we actually tracked it that month and we wrote a hundred tickets in this community. So people are not getting it. It's getting very expensive and it's getting very dangerous."

Robinson recommended a couple of things drivers can do is to have someone else in the vehicle doing the texting for them or answering the phone. They can also let the call go to voicemail and pick it up later.

"If you feel that you really can't resist the temptation, turn it off and put it in the trunk or somewhere behind you where you can't get it," said Robinson. "Everyone understands how important communications is to us but not important enough to cause a crash and deal with those ramifications."

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