March is Distracted Driving Month and the Vernon RCMP volunteers will be out checking for drivers on their phones talking or texting.
Police say Cell Watch Operations is an educational initiative aimed at reducing distracted driving incidents in communities throughout B.C. and is conducted in partnership with the RCMP and ICBC’s Road Safety Department. The program is designed to remind drivers that it is illegal and dangerous to use hand-held cell phones and other portable electronic devices when driving.
“The information recorded will be used to send the registered owner a warning letter from the RCMP and in the future may be used to issue a traffic violation,” said Regan Borisenko, Crime Prevention Coordinator for the City of Vernon.
Not only is using an electronic device while driving a bad idea, it's against the law and can result in penalties and fines. Distracted driving is a leading cause of car crash fatalities in B.C. and one of the most common distractions behind the wheel is a mobile electronic device. Most of us know not to text or check emails while driving, but programming a GPS, changing a song or even playing a game can be just as dangerous.
“We've all seen distracted drivers checking messages at red lights, or worse,” said Borisenko. “However distracted drivers are often our friends, family, and coworkers. We want to remind them that it's not ok to use an electronic device while driving, even when it might seem harmless.”
The following are some common misconceptions about driver distractions:
•“I can call or text when I’m stopped at a red light.” The law applies whenever you’re in control of the vehicle—even when you’re stopped at a light or in bumper-to-bumper traffic. Studies show that drivers who are talking on a cellphone lose about 50 per cent visually of what is going on around them. When you’re stopped at an intersection or slowed in traffic, you’re still driving.
•“Using my phone isn’t that dangerous”. Distracted driving, such as using a personal electronic device while driving, is the second leading cause of car crash fatalities in B.C. Between 2011 and 2015, there were an average of 78 fatalities each year due to distracted driving, compared to 89 fatalities due to speed-related crashes and 66 due to impaired-related crashes.
•“I’m a good driver so I can multitask.” Drivers, even really good ones, need to concentrate on the road at all times because the unexpected— like when a pedestrian crosses the street without warning or cars quickly pass or merge— can happen at any time.
•“It’s okay to use some of the other features on my phone while driving.” Under the law, drivers can’t use any hand-held electronics while driving— that includes checking voice mail, making music selections, programming a GPS or looking up phone numbers. In fact, you can’t even hold the device in your hand while operating a vehicle. Ask a passenger to operate the device for you so you can keep your focus on the road. If you’re alone, turn your cellphone off or put it in the trunk to avoid the temptation.
•“Emergency calls are okay.” While the law exempts drivers needing to call 9-1-1 to reach the police, fire department or ambulance service about an emergency, it does not apply to personal situations— it has to be a real emergency. Your family and friends may have something urgent to tell you in a call or text, but your safety is always more important to them.
•“The law is the same for all drivers.” While most drivers are allowed to use a hands-free device, drivers in the Graduated Licensing Program (GLP) are not. They have greater restrictions to help them stay focused on the road while they build their driving experience. This means no use of personal electronic devices at any time, including hands-free phones.
•“Using the speakerphone is allowed.” Not always. Under the law, drivers outside of the GLP are allowed to use hands-free cellphones and devices but there are restrictions on how. In addition to a Bluetooth or wired headset, you can use the speakerphone but the phone has to be securely attached to either you (such as with a belt clip or in your pocket) or to the car; you can’t have it in your lap, or loose on the seat beside you. Holding your phone in one hand and steering with the other isn’t safe. And it’s illegal.
The best way to stay safe is to not use your phone at all, but if you must take a call, use a hands-free electronic device and keep the conversation brief. According to section 214.2 of the Motor Vehicle Act, a driver cannot operate a hand-held electronic device (including hand-held cellphones, smartphones, tablets and other electronic hand-held devices such as music players, GPS Navigation Systems, etc.).
Also, a driver cannot communicate using text messages or email on any type of electronic device. Drivers in the Graduated Licensing Program (GLP) are restricted from using hands-free cellphones while driving. Drivers with a regular licence are permitted to use hands-free cellphones and devices that can be operated with one touch or voice command, provided that the device is securely fixed to the vehicle or worn securely on the driver’s body. Any driver caught texting, emailing, holding a cellphone or other hand-held electronic device while driving could be fined $368.00 and receive four driver penalty points ($175.00).