Distracted driving a major cause of fatalities

February is distracted driver enforcement month and the West Coast’s RCMP will be cracking down on drivers looking at cellphones instead of the road. Driving while distracted is the third leading cause of fatal accidents in BC-impaired driving is the first and speeding is second- and accounts for about 90 deaths in the province each year.

“You have to be focused on what you’re doing (and) what’s going on around the road; things happen so quick in a collision you have to be alert,” said Sgt. Jeff Swann of the Ucluelet RCMP detachment.

“When people are texting it takes their eyes off the road for about four or five seconds per text message and when you’re going 50 km an hour, which is the speed limit in our town, that’s equivalent to driving about 64 metres blind, that’s more than the length of a professional size hockey rink.”

He added that in a town the size of Ucluelet traveling over 60 metres usually means crossing at least one crosswalk.

“We want drivers to understand distracted driving is a serious issue and we can all help to prevent it,” he said.

He hopes turning off cellphones becomes as habitual to local drivers as putting on a seatbelt.

“People need to make a commitment to not use an electronic device. Everybody’s got busy lives businesses and kids but make that commitment to say ‘no I’m driving right now,'” he said. “Shut it off don’t just put it in your pocket because then that tendency is there when it vibrates or makes that little ‘bing bong’ sound you’re going to want to check it. Get to where your going…the messages will wait.”

The fine for driving while using an electronic device is $167.

“The last thing you want to do is give a donation of $170 to the BC government, they take enough money from us and all our taxes every other day the last thing you want to do is make a voluntary donation,” Swann said. “Please, please, please put away your devices focus on driving (and) get to where you’re going safely.”

He encourages families to talk to each other about the importance of driving cellphone free and to remind each other to keep devices out of mind when on the road.

The distracted driving campaign was launched by the provincial government and ICBC in 2013 and is aimed at raising awareness of the dangers associated with driving with an electronic device. “You’re four times more likely to crash when talking on a hand-held phone behind the wheel and 23 times more likely to get in a crash if you text while driving,” said BC Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Todd Stone. “Safety is our top priority and we all play a role in keeping our roads safe.”

The effort has been ramped up this year and extra policing is expected on the West Coast during the campaign. A highway patrol unit from Saanich will be conducting patrols locally throughout the month.

Drivers are still permitted to use hands-free communication devices, GPS devices, and handheld audio players.

“Not many years ago we didn’t even have cellphones and we survived and got through,” Swann said.