COLUMN: Hang up before you get behind the wheel

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In February 2010, distracted driving legislation came into effect in B.C. The purpose for the new law was to make our roads safer. In 2010 alone, there were more than 100 fatal crashes directly related to distracted driving, cellphones being the biggest distraction of all.

Here in Delta, we have seen some horrible collisions caused by people talking or texting while driving. While I will not get into any details of those crashes, I can say that there are widows and children who will not see a partner or parent again because someone was careless behind the wheel.

I will never forget one particular crash. An innocent victim sat in his vehicle and watched as a distracted driver in a larger vehicle drove straight towards him. He had no way of escaping and was killed by the impact. I often wonder if he knew he was going to die and what his last thoughts were.

I will be frank in saying that driving while using a cellphone is selfish and ignorant behaviour.

Cellphone distractions increase your odds of a crash by 23 per cent, which means you are also increasing the odds of killing somebody else.

We have changed our mindset around impaired driving, however we do not seem to understand the perils of distracted driving.

Here in British Columbia, we have some of the toughest penalties for impaired driving in the country, including driving suspensions and vehicle impoundments. These have had a direct impact on alcohol-related deaths, with over a 50-per-cent drop since the implementation of Immediate Roadside Prohibition. Perhaps we need to consider something similar for cellphone use.

The reality is that distracted driving is as deadly as impaired driving yet we have not changed our behaviour. Instances of distracted driving are on the rise and police enforcement, including a $167 fine, does not seem to be enough of a deterrent.

In 2013, Delta police handed out twice as many distracted driving sanctions as we did for impaired driving.

We owe it to each other to avoid distractions while driving. Put the cellphone in a place where you cannot see it and if you need to talk on your phone while driving, install a hands-free device. There is no excuse for texting while you operate a motor vehicle – if it’s that important, pull over to the side of the road.

Eventually, distracted driving will be regarded with the same severity as drinking and driving. I just hope to see our habits change before too many more lives are put at risk.

Jim Cessford is the chief of the Delta Police Department and has spent more than 40 years in law enforcement.

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