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Distracted-driving laws haven't deterred motorists who talk and text

Lower Mainland cops handed out 4,449 distracted driving tickets in a one month enforcement blitz.

Globe files/Globe files

Two years after British Columbia enacted a distracted-driving law, motorists continue to text, talk and drive – with a recent police blitz snaring double the number of violators as last year's.

The RCMP handed out 4,449 tickets last month to drivers using electronic devices, nearly two times the 2,300 tickets issued in February, 2011.

"We're increasing our efforts, but we're still seeing a ton of people with their cellphones," RCMP Superintendent Norm Gaumont said Tuesday. "You just can't be doing that. If you're texting, you're going to end up hitting someone."

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Distracted driving – which includes texting, talking on a hand-held device, applying makeup and reading – is a leading cause of serious collisions and fatalities in the Lower Mainland. In 2011, 27 people died in Lower Mainland collisions in which texting and driving, or other forms of distracted driving, was a factor. But that tally was down from 46 in 2010.

"No doubt education is a big component," Supt. Gaumont said. "And we want to see less people dying on the streets, so we're going to continue our efforts."

Several enforcement blitzes have increased the frequency of fines (which stand at $167 in B.C.) since changes made to the Motor Vehicle Act in January, 2010 prohibited drivers from sending or reading texts or e-mails. Besides fines, drivers can also receive three penalty points on their licences.

Other high-rated traffic violations during the blitz included 2,550 citations for not wearing or misusing a seatbelt and 2,164 intersection infractions, such as running red lights or turning left on red.

The money from ticket revenues is pooled by the provincial government and given back to municipalities as a grant, based on their police budgets, and put toward public safety.

Revenues from the February blitz exceeded $2-million, though precise figures are unavailable.

In Alberta, Edmonton police have handed out around 1,351 tickets to drivers since distracted driving legislation became law in September, 2011.

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Texting recently overtook impaired driving as the No. 1 safety concern among drivers, according to a 2011 survey conducted by the Canadian Automobile Association.

But texting behind the wheel is part of a broader problem of focus and cognitive perception on the road, says Angelo DiCicco, general manager at Young Drivers of Canada, a national driver training school.

"We've been very good at teaching people like a monkey to press the brake pedal, but now we're moving toward training people's brains," he said.

Driver training courses often include exercises that assess cognitive skills and test reaction time to demonstrate the difficulties of multitasking. David Wanke, a driving instructor for the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia, says texting is one of many hazardous distractions. "The actual danger of texting and driving is one small component, and if you understand that, you understand the bigger picture."

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