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Drivers openly flouting cell-phone laws

Distracted driving was the focus of a recent crackdown by Richmond Mounties in a partnership with the Insurance Corporation of B.C. dubbed Project Swoop.

But The Richmond Review attempted to gauge the prevalence of distracted driving during 90 minutes of quiet observation one weekday afternoon recently at No. 3 Road and Westminster Highway.

Finding people driving while distracted did not prove difficult.

While it was mostly cellular phones that were a problem, many who pulled up to a red light at the intersection could be seen fiddling with maps or books.

One woman was checking what appeared to be her lengthy grocery shopping receipt.

The male driver of a new Hyundai Tuscon SUV gets mixed reviews for wearing a bluetooth earpiece, but a big thumbs down for fiddling with his phone while pulling up to the red light.

And while The Review couldn’t capture photographic evidence of the driver of a dark blue BMW SUV fiddling with the backlit screen of her phone or music player as she ran a yellow light, many others were caught red-handed.

Many tried to hide their behaviour, holding their phones below shoulder-level, near the bottom of their vehicle’s steering wheel and nearly out of view for passersby.

Others were chatting in plain view, talking via speaker phone into the base of their iPhones, while the driver of a black BMW 740i was kind enough to roll down his passenger side window as The Review photographed him with his cell phone, earphones trailing from his ears to his iPhone.

RCMP Sgt. Rob Quilley, head of the Richmond Road Safety Unit, said it’s young drivers, mostly 20 to 30 year olds, who aren’t getting the message that driving while texting or chatting with a phone in hand, is hazardous, can be deadly, and is most certainly against the law.

Last month, Quilley’s squad issued 170 electronic device violations, while general duty officers handed out another 70, he said.

Using a cell phone at red lights and in stop-and-go traffic is also illegal, Quilley pointed out, and under the province’s distracted driving laws specific to electronic devices, comes with a $167 ticket.

Quilley pointed to an American study that noted that after the enactment of legislation prohibiting cell phone use, rates of crashes actually increased.

That’s thought to be because people tried to hide their use of phones more, down to out-of-view levels from other drivers, meaning their eyes were shifted further away from the roadway.

According to Mounties, one quarter of fatal crashes in B.C. over the past five years were attributed to distracted driving. It’s now the third leading cause of driving fatalities in the province.

During last week’s enforcement, six people were charged with distracted driving, with another 35 charged with speeding, including one driver who was going down Russ Baker way at 110 kilometres per hour in a 50-kilometre-per-hour zone.

But electronics aren’t the sole culprit when it comes to distracted driving.

People with pets in their laps, brushing their hair, eating bowls of noodles or cereal, Quilley has seen it all. These can be charged with driving without due care and attention, he said.

Richmond RCMP Cpl. Sherrdean Turley said the education and enforcement campaign was intended to remind drivers about the dangers of speeding and distracted driving.

“We’ve been telling people for quite some time now to slow down and pay attention when driving but still collisions are occurring where speed and distracted driving are factors,” Turley said.

Joanne Bergman, ICBC’s road safety coordinator, said: “We’re offering free downloadable ringtones that remind drivers not to respond to calls or texts while driving. We want to help change their behaviours so that our roads are safer for everyone.”

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