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Distracted driving blamed for growing number of traffic deaths

Aug 29 2012

Distracted driving is now the third most common cause of traffic fatalities on B.C. roads, a trend fuelled by the use of cellphones and other electronic devices.

That statistic doesn't surprise, Chris Foord, chairman of the Capital Regional District's Traffic Safety Commission. "Technology in the last 15 years has come along with a number of devices which are wonderful aids in our lifestyles, however they pose risks when - combined with driving.

"I think the bottom line here is driving is not the time to be multi-tasking."

A stepped-up police enforcement program against distracted driving starts this weekend and continues throughout September. Tickets for the offence are $167.

Speed remains the No. 1 cause of traffic fatalities, with alcohol impairment at No. 2, said Jill Blacklock, Insurance Corporation of B.C.'s road-safety delivery manager. ICBC numbers, based on a five-year average, have speed-related deaths at 129 annually followed by 113 alcohol-related deaths and 94 linked to distracted driving.

In fourth-place is "highrisk driving," a term that includes such things as failure to yield, driving too close and running lights.

Blacklock said distracted driving refers to more than misuse of hand-held phones.

"The legislation and the tickets for distracted driving are with regard to personalelectronic devices - but when we talk about what's taking your attention off the road, it's also things like talking to the kids in the back seat to having a dog sitting on your lap."

Blacklock said many people consider distracted driving as risky as drinking and driving, but she points to a 2012 Ipsos Reid poll that found 40 per cent of cellphone owners admit to having used their phones while behind the wheel.

"It doesn't quite have the stigma yet that we need it to have."

Victoria police Const. Ryan Wilson, a member of the traffic division, cited a case a few years ago where a woman was killed in what was believed to be a case of texting while driving. Police sought court orders to get her phone records, which showed that she was indeed texting at the time of the crash.

Victoria Police Chief Jamie Graham, who chairs the B.C. Association of Chiefs of Police trafficsafety committee, said there is a particular issue with distracted driving now that summer is ending.

"The big concern as we move into the school year is it's almost terrifying to think that people are still doing this."

Graham said he will often drive up to red lights and see people with their heads trained on their laps, where they are clearly attempting to hide a cellphone.

Things like that make him as determined as ever to deal with the problem, Graham said.

""It's just a real high-risk behaviour. Public warnings help, but the tougher the enforcement, the better."

And don't try to talk your way out of a distracted-driving ticket, Graham said.

"There's a million excuses, I've heard 'em all."

jwbell@timescolonist.com

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