Greater Victoria police ticket scores of distracted drivers

Business was brisk Wednesday morning as Victoria police pulled over drivers for using phones behind the wheel at Douglas and Finlayson streets.

It was one of a number of sites around Greater Victoria where police from various detachments were deployed, said Victoria police Const. Matt Rutherford.

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Eighty-five violation tickets were reported in the region by about 2:30 p.m. Rutherford said the fine for a first offence is $368 plus four penalty points.

As always, excuses from drivers were flowing, and they were “all over the map,” said Victoria police Const. Stephen Pannekoek, a member of the traffic section.

They included everything from pleading ignorance to drivers saying they were just checking the time or using the navigation feature, he said.

“My favourite, though: ‘But I’m using speaker phone’ while the phone’s in their hand,” he said. “I get that one a lot, and they hold it up like they’re serving dinner.”

Officers were at the intersection from about 8 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. Pannekoek was a few steps away next to the foliage outside Denny’s restaurant, keeping an eye on drivers at the traffic light and walking up to offenders.

Part of the goal, he said, is educating drivers about things such as earbud use with phones and other devices.

“One earbud only — you cannot have two earbuds in, and no music,” Pannekoek said. “So it’s one ear bud, phone-use only.

“And the phone must be hard-mounted.”

ICBC road safety co-cordinator Colleen Woodger said Wednesday’s effort was part of Operation Hang Up.

“It’s a project where I try to get all our stakeholders and everyone with a vested interest to come and just really kind of amp up the awareness and increase education.”

Woodger said that every year, an average of 10 people are killed by distracted driving on Vancouver Island, and cellphones aren’t the only culprit. “Cellphones certainly are prominent, but it’s anything that takes your attention away from driving.”

The campaign includes signs — including 100 temporary distracted-driving signs along roadways — to spread the message, Woodger said.

“We’re just using every possible way we can to bring the awareness to people that they need to focus on the road,” she said.

“Driving and staying focused on the road is your top priority.”

Cellphone use by motorists is clearly still an issue, Woodger said. “I think people are probably getting a little more crafty at doing it.”

But getting caught is costly. Between the fine and the penalty points, one offence can cost a driver just shy of $580, Woodger said.

“When you get your second offence, it jumps exponentially. You’ll get high-risk driver premiums, you could be up to $2,000 by the time you’re done on your second ticket.”

Rutherford said a crackdown Tuesday at Hillside and Douglas generated 28 tickets in five hours.

jwbell@timescolonist.com

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