Constables Derrek Hall, left, Mitch Gordon, Craig Schnablegger and Martin Kortas and other members of NanaimoRCMP’s Municipal Traffic Division will be on the lookout for motorists talking on cell phones, eating, and letting pets siton their laps while behind the wheel throughout Distracted Driving Awareness Month, which kicked off Thursday. (CHRISBUSH/The News Bulletin)

Police on the lookout for distracted drivers

Nanaimo RCMP, ICBC, community policing volunteers kick off Distracted Driving Awareness Month

Motorists who talk on cellphones or let their dogs sit in their laps while driving have a greater than normal chance of getting caught over the coming weeks.

March is Distracted Driving Awareness Month and Cpl. Terry Crawford, head of the Nanaimo RCMP Municipal Traffic Division, Const. Gary O’Brien, Nanaimo RCMP spokesman, and Caroline Robinson, ICBC road safety coordinator, put out fair warning for drivers who thumb their noses at the regulations with a kick-off event at Nanaimo RCMP detachment Thursday.

On average, nine people die each year on Vancouver Island due to distracted driving.

“That’s a tragedy because these are preventable deaths,” O’Brien said.

Provincewide, about 24 per cent of all traffic accidents are due to distracted driving, which results in 78 deaths, Robinson said.

As of Thursday, ICBC also increased penalties for drivers who have been repeatedly ticketed for distracted driving.

“So, basically as of March 1, the fines are going to be going up for distracted driving tickets,” Robinson said. “So, for instance, if you get two distracted driving tickets in a three-year period you could be paying close to $2,000, for that as well too, on top of the fines. Really, if that’s incentive for someone not to do that behaviour, there’s now more financial costs attached to it. It’s all part of the whole movement that we are promoting, which is really just to get people to stop doing it. That’s how serious it is and that’s what we want to get across to people. It’s just not worth it on any level.”

Throughout March, police and community policing volunteers will be out enforcing the rules against distracted driving, which Crawford said includes people driving with pets on their laps or motorists eating while behind the wheel.

“We’re really just trying to get the message out that it just takes that split second, looking away, out of your window, looking away from operating your vehicle to attend a cell call or a text or any sort of distraction from within that vehicle to be involved in a critical accident,” Crawford said.

Crawford said the message is getting out, but police still see and hear about lots of people talking or texting on their smart phones, eating, and driving with pets in their laps.

“We’ll be out targeting people specifically on their cellphones and using electronic devices,” Crawford said. “We’ll be … partnering with our community volunteers, talking with pedestrians or cyclists about using electronic devices when out in traffic just to get that awareness … we’re really concerned with just keeping people safe so that we don’t have to make those calls home that your son or daughter, your mom or dad or brother or sister has been in an accident.”

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