Distracted driving has now overtaken impaired driving as the second leading cause of car crashes on British Columbia roadways, with ICBC estimating that distracted driving contributes to an estimated 81 deaths in crashes every year in the province.
While distracted driving can include anything from adjusting a GPS unit or tuning a radio to having an unsecured animal in the car, the most common offence is using an electronic device, such as a cellphone, for calling or texting. BC law states that drivers cannot send or read text messages or e-mails while driving; make or receive calls unless using a hands-free device; or hold or operate any electronic device while driving.
Despite the laws, and fines starting at $167 and three points for a violation, the message is not sinking in with many drivers. During a two-hour traffic enforcement blitz on March 17 at the intersection of Vedder Road and Luckakuck Way, for example, Chilliwack RCMP issued 37 violation tickets, or one just over every three minutes.
“It’s instilled in people to be on the phone all the time,” says Cpl. Mike Rail, Media Relations Officer for the Upper Fraser Valley Regional Detachment. “We need to get the message out about enforcement. We’re trying to stop distracted driving, which is a danger on our highways.”
The RCMP have some simple tips to avoid being distracted by your cellphone while you’re driving. These include asking a passenger to make calls or answer texts if you can’t wait; pulling off to the side of the road to make or receive a call or text; and letting your calls go to voicemail, to be checked when you stop. If your phone is still too much of a temptation, turn it off or put it in the trunk.
The provincial government has recently announced that after a review period, fines for distracted driving, and the attached points, will soon be rising sharply. The government plans to have the new fines in place by the end of the current session.
“No call or text is so important it’s worth risking your life,” says Rail.