In morning rush hour, a distracted-driving ticket every minute

In the span of three minutes, three drivers were nabbed for using their cellphones at a Saanich intersection and fined $368 for distracted driving. 

There was a driver caught each minute between 8:27 and 8:30 Thursday morning. One ticketed driver was a young mom with her son in the back seat.

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“These are just the ones we can safely pull over,” said Acting Staff Sgt. Ron Cronk, unit commander of the regional Integrated Road Safety Unit.

About 10 officers from Saanich and IRSU conducted the two-hour distracted driving blitz as part of a month-long campaign by the Insurance Corp. of B.C.

The overall number of drivers caught was not high. That’s because some officers were wearing bright yellow vests so they would be visible at the intersection, part of the campaign’s educational component.

“You deserve a ticket if, because you are on your phone, you don’t see a bunch of police officers in yellow vests in front of you,” Cronk said. “I’d really like to catch nobody and have 100 per cent cellphone compliance, but, unfortunately, we are not there yet.”

The use of hand-held personal electronic devices while driving, even while stopped at a red light, has been banned since 2010. More than 43,000 drivers were fined in 2016.

Distracted driving is responsible for about 27 per cent of all car-crash fatalities in B.C. Drivers are five times more likely to have a crash if they are holding a hand-held electronic device, said Colleen Woodger of ICBC.

A first-time offence for distracted driving is $368 and four penalty points worth $175, for a total of $543.

The penalty point premiums escalate if a driver has multiple offences. With five tickets, for instance, a driver would pay $5,600 — $1,840 in fines and $3,760 in penalty point premiums. For a 10th offence, the tickets would be $3,680 with penalty point premiums adding up to $14,520, for a total of $18,200.

There’s a zero-tolerance policy for new drivers. “They can’t even use hands-free devices,” Woodger said.

Police and ICBC recommend drivers turn off their hand-held electronic devices while driving or put them out of reach.

Acting Sgt. Jereme Leslie of Saanich police said drivers come up with countless “I was just … ” excuses for distracted driving. Those reasons don’t wash with officers, he said.

Cronk advised drivers to put the creative energy they put into trying to hide their cellphone use into ways to organize their directions or turn on their GPS or music before they hit the road.

Saanich Const. Maks Vartanov, of the traffic safety unit, said the phone only needs to be on a driver’s lap for him to be able to issue a ticket for distracted driving under the Motor Vehicle Act.

Drivers pulled over Thursday looked resigned to their fate, while one driver and his passenger in a white truck hollered and honked as they passed officers, giving them a thumbs up.

ceharnett@timescolonist.com

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