VANCOUVER — People who see drivers talking on a handheld phone or texting behind the wheel should signal to them to hang up by gesturing or honking their horn — or even have their passengers take photos and call police.
That was the word Thursday from police officials at the launch of a month-long campaign to get people to “leave the phone alone.”
Victoria Police Chief Jamie Graham, head of the traffic safety committee for the B.C. Association of Chiefs of Police, said police will lay charges of distracted driving if those who turn them in are willing to testify in court.
“Call the police, send us the photograph. We’re prepared to charge the registered owner and take them to court,” he said.
Graham said the message about the dangers of distracted driving isn’t getting through to many drivers, despite education campaigns and ticketing blitzes.
Since the law was changed in 2010 to ban using handheld devices while driving, police have issued double the number of tickets a month, to 4,000 last year from 2,000 in 2010.
Police are calling on lawmakers to increase the $167 fine, add a demerit point to an offender’s licence and implement “some type of increased sanctions,” such as seizing phones.
“There is absolutely no debate about how dangerous this practice is,” Graham said.
ICBC’s John Dickinson said 91 people on average are killed in B.C. every year because of distracted driving, the third-leading cause of fatal car crashes, after speeding and drunk driving.
Drivers are four times more likely to crash when talking on a phone while driving and 23 times more likely to crash while texting.
To show how prevalent the practice is, Vancouver police in under an hour pulled over a dozen drivers and fined them $167 outside the Vancouver Art Gallery on Thursday.
Graham said police are on to illegal tricks some drivers use to make phones appear “hands-free,” such as taping them to steering wheels.
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