Editorial — Distracted driving law largely ignored

When the provincial government brought in a new law banning the use of hand-held cell phones in 2010, most drivers complied with the law — at first.

There was a general recognition that distracted driving was a serious issue. Several high-profile cases had brought out how inattention at the wheel had resulted in deadly consequences, and there was also the feeling that police would be strictly enforcing the new law.

There was added enforcement at first, in an attempt to get the message out that the law had changed. But police have many tasks to do, and much of their attention in the past eight months has been consumed  with new drinking and driving laws, which can see drivers with blood alcohol limits of .05 lose their vehicles.

It seems that the issue of distracted drivers has been overshadowed by the very few drivers who insist on driving after having too much to drink. While this a significant issue and leads to terrible consequences, as recently witnessed in Surrey, when an apparently drunk driver struck and killed a popular 22-year-old softball player and coach driving home from practice, it is not the only issue.

It seems most people who were using their cell phones while driving have reverted to their old habits. You can see it every day when stopped at a traffic light, or when driving along the road. In many cases, drivers are using their phones to send text messages or reply to e-mail, which is arguably far more distracting than simply talking on the phone.

When Langley RCMP set up an enforcement blitz last Wednesday, they handed out more than 80 tickets. The blitz was part of a provincial crackdown in high-risk driving.

Of the more than 80 tickets handed out in a short period, 21 (or about one-quarter) were for use of hand-held devices by drivers. It seems that, law or no law, people will not give up using their mobile phones, even at the risk of a fine and a ticket.

For many years, drivers did just fine without cell phones. Yes, they were often distracted by other things, such as a loud discussion in the vehicle, a crying baby or something else.

Surely drivers can learn to either do without them while driving, pull over if a call is coming in or, if they find it absolutely necessary to drive and use the phone, spend a little money and have a hands-free device installed in their vehicles.

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