It would appear that a lot of Langley drivers are regularly breaking the law without even realizing it.
By now, most people understand that it’s illegal to talk or text on a hand-held cellphone while operating a vehicle. What many don’t seem to understand is that the law — intended to discourage distracted driving — has everything to do with the location of the device and not what it’s being used for, explained Cpl. Patrick Davies of the Langley RCMP traffic unit.
“The act of holding the device in your hand is the offense,” Davies explained.
Davies along with ICBC’s Leanne Cassap appeared before Langley City council on Nov. 18 to offer a road safety update, which included dispelling a few commonly held misconceptions about violations related to cellphone use.
Many drivers believe that if they’re stopped at a red light, it’s OK to use their cellphone.
That’s not the case, said Davies.
As long as the vehicle is on a ‘highway’ — which includes any publicly accessible road or parking lot — the law applies, he said.
If a driver pulls off a road, stops the vehicle and puts it into ‘park,’ it is then legal to hold and use a phone, Davies explained.
And it’s not OK to make quick ‘emergency’ calls or send texts home to tell the sitter you’re going to be late, he said. “No exceptions.”
It’s not just talking and texting that will get an offender $167 fine and three points on their licence.
It’s holding a phone to use any function the device performs — whether it’s playing music or getting directions from a GPS.
Councillor Teri James told Davies that once she leaves Langley, she is pretty much dependent on her GPS and asked how she can legally use it.
Davies suggested something as simple as affixing the device to the vehicle’s dashboard with a piece of velcro, would put her within the letter of the law.
It’s a solution that should only be used for one-touch functions, such as using a GPS, he added.
During a two-day blitz last September, police handed out 158 tickets — more than half of those for distracted driving — over the course of four hours (two hours each day).
There’s a basic message that doesn’t seem to be getting through: “Driving is a complex task that requires your full attention,” said ICBC’s Leanne Cassap. “You’re driving a 4,000 pound bomb.”
If a driver finds their phone to be too great a temptation, they can always put it in the trunk, she suggested.
Alternatively, pull off the road, have a passenger answer a ringing phone or text, or simply let a call go to voicemail.
And it’s not only drivers who are being distracted by their smartphones.
“I’ve seen people walk right into traffic without looking, they’re so transfixed by this thing in their hand,” said Davies.
Davies said police are fighting an uphill battle against the onslaught of advertising dedicated to increasingly complex cellphones.
But as functionality increases, so do fatalities.
In B.C., 94 deaths can be attributed to distracted driving each year, Davies told council. That includes drivers, passengers, pedestrians and cyclists, he added.
According to stats provided during the presentation, people who text while driving are 23 times more likely to get in a crash, and drivers are four times more likely to have an accident while talking on the phone.
While drivers who hold a regular licence face a hefty fine and points, those with a graduated licence risk a three-month suspension if they are ticketed for a moving violation.