It's been five months since B.C. implemented the ban on using a hand-held cell phone while driving and police have issued more than 8,000 tickets. But despite the danger and the fines, people are still choosing to break the law.
ICBC asked police across B.C. to share drivers' top excuses for using a hand-held cell phone while driving:
1. It was an urgent work call! A real emergency would be if your car were flipped over in a ditch because you weren't focused on the road. Let callers know on your voicemail that you may be driving and there may be delay before you return their call.
2. But I was stopped at a red light. Let's put a stop to this misconception right now: the rules apply even if you are stopped at a light.
3. I was just checking my voicemail – I didn't make a call. Under the new law, drivers can't use hand-held electronics while driving. Let voicemail do its job – call back later when it's safe to do so. Better yet, turn your cell phone off or put it in the trunk to avoid the temptation to pick it up.
4. Driver: But I have it on hands-free! Police officer: Sir, it's not hands-free if it's in your hand. Hands-free doesn't equal speakerphone. Under the new law, a driver cannot use a hand-held electronic communication device and this includes hand-held cell phones, iPods and other electronic hand-held devices.
5. But it was my mom calling! In order to help our drivers in the Graduated Licensing Program (GLP) become safe drivers for life, they are banned from using all phone and electronic devices, including hands-free. The only time a GLP driver is permitted to use a phone or electronic device in a car is if they're safely parked and off the roadway or are making an emergency call to 9-1-1. So parents, do your teenagers a favour and don't call when you know they'll be driving.
6. I didn't know I'm not from here. I'm from Maple Ridge. Wow - police really do hear it all! According to an Ipsos-Reid poll done in January 2010, 98 per cent of British Columbians are aware of the new law. And FYI, the law applies to the whole province.
7. I drive better than most people – not like the ones that eat while driving. Anything that takes your attention from the road is dangerous. Studies show that drivers who talk on a cell phone lose about 50 per cent visually of what's going on around them and are four times more likely to get into a crash.
8. I was just setting up my hands-free device. You'll probably do a better job of setting up your hands-free (or eating, or applying makeup) when your car is parked and not moving. Make sure that you're ready for your trip before you start driving.
9. But it's my first time. Can't I just get a warning? Police didn't start handing out tickets until a month after the ban went into effect - that's more than enough time to get the message. Consider your $167 fine and three-point penalty your warning, so make that first time your last.
10. It was my wife calling and I didn't dare ignore her. Would she rather hear that you've crashed the car and you, or someone else, is hurt because you were distracted by her call? Pull over before you answer or return a call. Your life, and the lives of people around you, are much more important than your phone call - even if it's someone you love on the phone.
If you find yourself making similar excuses, think about the influence your smart driving decisions can have on others. They can help create a culture where friends, family and colleagues don't expect you to pick up right away.
For more information on the new law and smart driving tips, visit drivecellsafe.ca. Follow us on Twitter at twitter.com/icbc.
Victoria drivers hanging up their cell phones
Meanwhile, motorists in the capital region appear to be getting the message about distracted driving, according to a University of Victoria study.
The study found that in February of last year, out of 8,000 vehicles observed at 40 sites around the city, 350 drivers were seen talking on cell phones. This past April, after the new cell phone law came into effect in January, just 75 drivers were observed engaging in this dangerous activity at those same locations.
The study also found a wide disparity between the sexes as to who talks on phones in their vehicles. Just over three-quarters, or 76 per cent, were male. Researchers also observed that only six per cent of females had passengers, while 30 per cent of the males did, increasing the odds of more injuries or deaths in the event of a crash.
Under new legislation brought into force in January, drivers caught talking on a hand-held phone or electronic device face a $167 fine, while those found texting or emailing will also net three penalty points.
To date, province-wide, police have issued around 8,000 distracted driving tickets for motorists talking or texting on a hand-held phone or electronic device: about 2,400 in February, over 3,300 in March and more than 2,400 in April.
An awareness campaign by the Province and ICBC is also underway to educate drivers on the new law and the importance of paying attention to the road, pedestrians and other cars around them. These include TV, radio and cinema ads, as well as signs posted on the backs of buses. The ads can be viewed by clicking on the following link: www.drivecellsafe.com.
Additional independent research and study data show cell phone use while driving is the number-one cause of distracted driving. On average, about 117 people die each year in B.C. and 1,400 are sent to hospital because someone was not paying attention behind the wheel.
The UVic study, entitled Comparison study of the prevalence of cell phone use while driving in the City of Victoria, British Columbia, is available at www.icbc.com/road-safety/drivers-passengers/cell-vic-study.pdf.