Kelowna RCMP officers pull over vehicles Wednesday driven by drivers a police spotter down the road says were using cell phones while driving. —Image: Alistair Waters/Capital News

Kelowna cops crack down on drivers using cell phones

Drivers caught talking or texting behind the wheel now face a fine totalling $543

RCMP officers in the Central Okanagan say they have have concluded several successful enforcement operations targeting drivers using cell phones during March, which was designated Distracted Driving Awareness Month.

Cpl. Jesse O’Donaghey of the Kelowna RCMP said police used both covert methods and, in some cases, undercover techniques in order to spot drivers handling their electronic devices while behind the wheel.

“Our traffic enforcement officers have even taken to the busy streets of Kelowna in plain clothes as spotters, using unsuspecting vehicles to pull along side other motorists,” said O’Donaghey on Wednesday.

“A uniformed enforcement officer, staged in the area, would then be called in to conduct the traffic stop with that motorist.”

The municipal traffic section of the Kelowna RCMP and the RCMP’s Central Okanagan traffic services unit joined forces to conduct the coordinated enforcement operations to target distracted drivers throughout the Central Okanagan. Both traffic services handed out a combined 300 violation tickets to drivers caught using their electronic devices this month.

On Wednesday, the police showed off how they nab drivers who do not obey the law, which mandates a fine of $368 plus four driver penalty points, which equate to an additional $170 on a driver’s auto insurance. The total fine for a first offence is $543.

“We want the motoring public to remain focused on their surroundings at all times, especially when stopped in traffic, and wonder whether or not the man or woman in the vehicle beside them could be a traffic cop searching for distracted drivers,” said Sgt. Mark Booth, NCO in charge of the Kelowna RCMP municipal traffic section.

He said some drivers just do not seem to get the message, noting one driver in the city has received five distracted driving tickets for talking on his cell phone behind the wheel over the last five years.

O’Donaghey said the police will continue to try and educate drivers with both enforcement and education.

He said while March was a month dedicated to cracking down on distracted drivers, the RCMP doesn’t plan on letting up at other times of the year.

“We do this all year ‘round,” he said during Wednesday’s enforcement action that the media was invited to attend.

He said RCMP officers in the city continue to spot drivers performing tasks like talking on their cell phones or texting while driving or stopped at a traffic lights. While that is illegal, so too is operating a vehicle with your phone sitting on your lap.

On Wednesday, police spotter Const. Brad Smith showed how he stood behind a hedge at a location on Enterprise Way that is slightly elevated from the road and could see into vehicles that passed. He said the police have a number of similar locations around the city that they use to spot distracted drivers.

He radios ahead to uniformed officers who wait at the entrance of a nearby parking lot and pull over the vehicle and its offending driver.

Smith said he has to see the phone being used in order to radio it in.

Hands-free devices are allowed in vehicles in B.C. but are supposed to be mounted, or out of reach of the driver and cannot be touched while driving.

O’Donaghey said the police are asking drivers who cannot stay off their phones to put them in the trunk of their vehicle when driving as a way to not succumb to the temptation of using them behind the wheel.

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