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Distracted driving still a problem in BC

The number of distracted driving tickets written in B.C. has gone up every year since the law was introduced, and 2013 is poised to break yet another record.

Police handed out 44,900 tickets between January and October for distracted driving offences, according to new statistics from the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia.

By comparison, there were 47,700 written in all of 2012, and only 42,900 between January and October.

ICBC road safety manager Jill Blacklock said driver awareness does not appear to be the issue.

“There is a real disconnect,” Blacklock said. “People understand that it’s a real risk to be talking on your handheld phone or texting, but when you’re behind the wheel people justify it and they tend to continue to do it.”

Distracted driving is responsible for about a quarter of car crash deaths in B.C., with an average of 91 per year. That trails narrowly behind speed-related crashes at 115, and drunk-driving crashes at 95.

B.C. banned the use of cell phones and electronic devices while driving on Feb. 1, 2010, and police wrote 21,300 tickets for various related offences by the end of December. Years later, drivers continue to flout the law and keep police across the province busy.

Const. Jeff Palmer of the West Vancouver Police Department said there are also several persistent misconceptions surrounding the rules, including that drivers permitted to use hands-free devices can simply hold them in their lap.

“Have your phone on a fixed mount and push one button to answer it, push one button to hang it up. That’s the lawful use of it,” Palmer said.

Motorists can also get a ticket for programming their GPS while driving, having earbud headphones in both ears, or checking their phones while stopped at a red light. Those in the Graduated Licensing Program are not permitted to use any devices, even if they’re hands-free.

In 2014, drivers can expect to see increased enforcement as well as distracted driving education campaigns in February and September.

Palmer said anyone hoping to get off with a warning has another thing coming.

“The warning is the law’s four years old and you really ought to know,” Palmer said.

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