OPINION: No excuse for distracted driving

Gord Turner looks at distracted driving laws.

A lot of rumours are floating around about distractions while driving. Some people believe you can’t drink a coffee or sip on a bottle of water while heading to work. They think huge fines will result.

The only way huge fines will result from drinking coffee or water on the go is if you actually get in an accident and are at fault. Drinking these types of fluids minimally interferes with your visual awareness or cognitive processes while driving. Listening to a radio or CD distracts a bit but is allowed.

The Motor Vehicle Act (MVA) makes the point that visual awareness is the key to safe driving. In fact, research indicates that those who use hand-held smartphones to look up things or talk to friends or text while driving lose visual awareness by about 25 per cent or more. If any danger or obstacle enters the driver’s space during the use of electronic devices this way, serious accidents causing bodily injury or death to you or others could result.

If you want to use any electronic device during your driving period, you need to pull off into what the MVA calls a safe parking spot. Until then, you need to keep your smartphone in a purse or in the glove compartment. It can ride around loose in the vehicle, but it must be turned off completely. You cannot be fined for having one — only if you use it.

The only time you may use a hand-held communication device while driving is if an emergency occurs. For example, you note a car has slid into the ditch on an icy morning or a fender-bender has occurred just as you were passing by. Still, even in those situations, if you can get off the roadway to a safe spot, that location would be the place to make your emergency call.

Part 3.1 of the Motor Vehicle Act regarding the improper use of electronic devices while driving has not been made into law lightly. Too many people have been killed by looking at screens or texting, and that’s why something had to be done. If you are caught using any number of electronic hand-held devices in British Columbia, you can expect a fine of $368 and the application of four penalty points to your driver’s licence. These points will cost the driver a further $210 by ICBC as a penalty point premium. Further severe penalties will be applied for distraction offences beyond the first one — additional fines up to $2,000 and possibly prohibition from driving.

Those who continue to use their hand-held devices while driving and hope to get away with it had better think again. RCMP have stepped up surveillance for illegal use of smartphones and similar devices. Nor will you get off easy when you go to court to argue your case. Judges have chosen to take a strong stand on this issue to prevent more lives from being taken because someone couldn’t wait to hear a message or send a response.

That said, hands-free communication is allowed. Using a telephone, for example, is okay if it is voice-activated or only requires one touch to initiate, accept, or end a call. If the device has an earpiece, it can only be used in one ear and must be inserted before driving. Normally, the electronic device has to be fixed to the vehicle or worn securely on a person’s body, and it cannot obstruct the driver’s view of the front or sides of the vehicle.

GPS use is acceptable, but the device must be programmed before driving.

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