February distracted-driving blitz targets talking, texting

Police will watching all month to make sure you are driving without distractions. - Andrew Leong/file
Police will watching all month to make sure you are driving without distractions.
— image credit: Andrew Leong/file

Eating soup while steering with knees is among the worst cases of distracted driving RCMP highway patrol Sgt. André Dentoom has ever seen.

The veteran South Island Traffic Services Mountie and his road crew have no appetite for cellphone use, shaving or other potentially deadly moves behind the wheel — especially during February’s blitz planned between Victoria and Nanaimo.

“The facts show 27% of fatals in B.C. are caused by distracted drivers,” he said. Add that to numbers showing the Trans-Canada Highway stretch through Cowichan is among B.C.’s deadliest.

“We’re not always in Duncan,” he said of Highway 1 duty where he and his officers use high-tech optics to spot offenders. “Scopes are marvelous — with a polarized lens to see through the glare of the windshield.”

Provincial stats also say an annual average of 91 people dying due to distracted driving-related crashes: 14 on the island; 31 in the Lower Mainland; 12 in northern B.C.; and 34 in the southeast.

Even one tragedy is too many to Dentoom. He’s heard all the excuses for talking or doing other stuff behind the wheel — activities carrying a $167 ticket. Motorists texting or emailing while driving are also subject to three driver-penalty points, plus the fine. Drivers using an electronic device while committing other moving violations, putting themselves and others at risk, face a charge of driving without due care and attention, with a fine of $368.

“Sometimes they admit it, and say they ‘just had to contact a family member,’” he said of curbed culprits. “They have an excuse about an emergency, or a message they had to do right away. It only takes a few seconds to pull over and do it from the side of the road — you may be 15 seconds late, but that’s OK.”

Shoulder talk, and hands-free devices could save lives, fines and points during the campaign, Dentoom explained.

There’s even discussion among RCMP brass about seeking laws allowing confiscation of scofflaws’ cellphones, as is done with drinking-drivers’ rides, he indicated.

“Higher fines are always good, but we’ve been yacking about something similar to doing excessive speeding and impounding their vehicles.

“If you’re caught using your cellphone, it would be confiscated; we’ll see if the politicians go for it.”

Sure, culprits could just buy a new phone, but they’d lose apps and other data on their collared cell.

“It would sure be inconvenient, and make them think about it,” he said.

Meanwhile, Dentoom reminded folks to call 911 with licence plates of motorists talking, texting, speeding or doing other dangerous things.

“Keep calling in. If we get a complaint of distracted driving, speeding or running a red light, we can lay a ticket on the guy but we’d need a (statement) from the complainant —  we need a witness to go on record  and go to court.”

Still, armed with an address from the plate number, police can visit a suspects’ home and levy tickets if the driver admits to wrongdoing.

And that RCMP visit could also yield charges if drugs, weapons and other illegal activities are found, Dentoom explained.

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