B.C. police urge public to turn in drivers talking on hand-held phones

talking on phonePeople who see drivers talking on a hand-held phone or texting behind the wheel should signal to them to hang up by gesturing or honking their horn or even have their passengers take photos and call police, police said at the launch of a month-long campaign to get people to “leave the phone alone.”

Victoria police Chief Jamie Graham, who’s head of the traffic safety committee for the B.C. Association of Chiefs of Police, said police would lay charges of distracted driving if those who turn them in are willing to testify in court.

“Call the police, send us the photograph, we’re prepared to charge the registered owner and take them to court,” he said.

Graham said the message about the dangers of distracted driving aren’t getting out to drivers, despite the education campaigns and ticketing blitzes.

Since the law was changed in 2010 to ban using hand-held devices while driving, police have issued double the number of tickets a month, to 4,000 last year from 2,000 in 2010.

Police are calling on lawmakers to increase the $167 fine, add a demerit point to an offender’s licence and implement “some type of increased sanctions,” such as seizing people’s phones.

“There is absolutely no debate about how dangerous this practice is,” Graham said.

ICBC’s John Dickinson said 91 people on average are killed in B.C. every year because of distracted driving, the third leading cause of fatal car crashes, after speeding and drunk driving.

Drivers are four times more likely to crash when talking on a phone while driving and 23 times more likely to crash while texting, said Dickinson.

To show how prevalent the practice is, Vancouver police in under an hour pulled over a dozen drivers and fined them $167 outside the Vancouver Art Gallery on Thursday.

An officer dressed as a panhandler with a hand-printed sign and wearing a wireless microphone in front of the B.C. Law Courts pointed out the offending drivers to uniformed traffic cops waiting with ticket books a few blocks down.

Graham said police are on to tricks some drivers use to make the phones “hands-free,” like tucking them into their toques or taping them to steering wheels and said that doesn’t work.