RCMP Begins 'Scoping Out' Distracted Drivers

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Distracted driving has become a leading cause of death and injury on the roads. I see far too many victims of distracted driving car crashes in my practice. This seems like an innovative approach to catching some offenders.

Picture it - the RCMP officer set up over a kilometer down the road. She doesn't have a radar gun in her hand, she has a 24 pixel DSLR camera with a lens that is almost a metre long set up on a tripod. This set up can clearly capture images up to 1.2 kilometres down the road and the RCMP in BC rolled out the camera setups on the May long weekend.

With this they can watch as drivers talk on their phones, text, apply makeup, read papers and novels and eat. All of these things are considered distracted driving offenses and once the images are captured they are used to ticket the driver.

Police have found the most lucrative place to capture images is at stop lights and stop signs to make it easier to take the picture. People also tend to be on their devices more when their cars are stopped. Once the image is taken the officer radios to their partner and the car gets pulled over. Often officers are stationed within walking distance of the same intersection so that if the drivers are looking down and texting from their laps the officer can clearly identify them and stop the offending driver on the spot.

All provinces are trying to find new ways to catch and charge drivers.  This blitz resulted in the RCMP laying over 200 distracted driving charges for phone use on the May 24 weekend alone.

Here are some facts on distracted driving:

  •  Research shows that drivers who use cell phones are four times more likely to be in a collision than drivers who focus on the road. And when drivers take their eyes off the road for more than two seconds, their crash risk doubles.
  • In Ontario, it's against the law to:
    • operate hand-held communication and electronic entertainment devices while you're driving
    • view display screens unrelated to your driving
  • Examples of hand-held devices are
    • iPods, GPS and MP3 players, cell phones,  smart phones, laptops, DVD players

In Ontario if you are convicted of distracted driving, a fully licenced driver (holder of Class A, B, C, D, E, F, G) or a hybrid driver (holder of a full-class licence and a novice licence such as Class G and M1) will receive:

  • a fine of $400, plus a victim surcharge and court fee, for a total of $490 if settled out of court
  • fine of up to $1,000 if you receive a summons or fight your ticket
  • three demerit points applied to your driver’s record

If convicted of distracted driving, a novice driver (subject to the Graduated Licensing program) will be subject to escalating sanctions:

  • first occurrence will result in a 30-day licence suspension
  • second occurrence will result in 90-day licence suspension
  • licence cancellation and removal from the Graduated Licensing System for a third occurrence

Novice drivers will not be subject to demerit points.

If you endanger others because of any distraction, including both hand-held and hands-free devices, you can also be charged with careless driving. If convicted, you will automatically receive:

  • six demerit points
  • fines up to $2,000 and/or
  • a jail term of six months
  • up to two-year licence suspension

You can even be charged with dangerous driving (a criminal offence), with jail terms of up to five years.

Exemptions

You can still use hand-held devices while driving in a few cases:

  • in a vehicle pulled off the roadway or lawfully parked
  • to make a 911 call
  • transmitting or receiving voice communication on a two-way, CB or mobile radio (hand-mikes and portable radios like walkie-talkies require a lapel button or other hands-free accessory)

Police, emergency medical services personnel, firefighters and enforcement officers can also use hand-held devices and viewing display screens when performing their duties.

You can refer to the MTO site for full details.