UPDATED: 4 p.m. March 22, 2017
There was education, there was enforcement, and there were results.
ICBC volunteers and police conducted a Distracted Driving Blitz called Operation Hang Up on March 17. The volunteers set up signs on Enterprise Way reminding Kelowna motorists to leave their cell phones alone when driving.
Kelowna RCMP set up enforcement in three locations to ticket those who ignored the message and the law.
In a six-hour period, members of the Kelowna Municipal and Central Okanagan Traffic Services handed out 103 cell phone violation tickets and 31 violation tickets for other offences such as vehicle defects, no insurance and other assorted violations. Thirty-nine warnings were also issued, for various motor vehicle act offences.
“The individuals perceived urgency to use a cell phone while driving will never be an excuse to put their lives, and the lives of others at risk,” said Cst. Steve Holmes. “At crash scene after crash scene, we have seen the tragic results of something that is completely preventable. Drivers have to leave their phones alone.”
If you want to avoid hefty fines don’t touch your phone while driving.
Don’t hold it to use the speaker function. Don’t even move it from the seat to the dashboard.
Even the slightest contact, Holmes explained during a Friday press conference highlighting distracted-driving month, could cost you.
“People need to know that according to the legislation, ‘use’ is simply when a person holds a device in their hands,” said Holmes.
“Whether they are transferring that device from one point to another or holding it up for a speaker phone, if that device is seen then the offence is complete and the person can be charged.”
Another lesser known offence is driving around with two headphones in your ears. One is considered acceptable, while the second is not. All the normal offenses stand, too. No texting, no dialing, no scrolling for music is allowed — it’s not even OK at a stop sign.
These offences come at a heavy cost. Holmes said that as of June 1, 2016 legislation changed to increase the fines from $167 to $368 and added an extra four points to the penalty as well. Repeat offenders really get hammered.
If a person has more than one ticket in a year then fines and the points will accrue and ICBC could introduce sanctions or suspensions. If you drive around with an N or an L on the back of your car, you’re looking at an instant suspension.
Despite the ban and the subsequent heftier fines, Holmes said he hasn’t seen a significant decrease in the number of people he sees driving while using their phones.
“It’s just as prevalent now as it was when the ban went into place seven years ago,” he said.
The only difference, explained Holmes, is that people have become a bit shiftier about the way they go about using their devices on the road.
He even had one motorist claim that they weren’t on the phone when police pulled them over. He had actually been talking into his coffee cup.
Needless to say, they didn’t sway the police who believe the stakes are high with distracted driving.
Christine Kirby, local ICBC road safety coordinator, explained that distracted driving is the second only to speed for the number of people it kills on BC roads each year and it’s particularly bad in Kelowna.
Of the 78 deaths attributed to distracted driving across B.C. last year, 32 were in the southern Interior.
She had no specifics on how many people were seriously injured, but there were more than 800 crashes in B.C. last year.