As West Kootenay police step up enforcement this month for the RCMP’s province-wide Distracted Driving and Occupant Restraint Campaign – it’s important to recognize that distracted driving violations extend far beyond talking and texting on a cell phone.
In the Kootenays, people have been caught behind the wheel – and fined – for driving while eating soup with a spoon, driving while putting make-up on, driving wearing headphones on both ears, and driving with a dog in the driver’s lap.
And these were just the instances that immediately came to mind for Sgt. Chad Badry from West Kootenay Traffic Services.
“(There is) much more,” he recalled.
“And, unfortunately, we are still seeing a high number of people using their cell phones while driving. We are seeing a rise in the number of violations tickets issues in relation to cell phone use.”
To crackdown on distracted drivers and restraint noncompliance, Badry says traffic services is planning a one-day blitz in addition to some focused enforcement throughout September.
Besides watching for a range of distracted driving offences, it’s important to know that the other key violation police are targeting, occupant restraint, is about much more than the click of a seatbelt.
Officers will be checking for seatbelts, yes. But they’ll also be looking for compliance with lap belts, infant and child restraints, and booster seats.
“Not wearing a seatbelt/ restraint is still an issue,” he told the Trail Times. “Both of these offences are easily prevented and the result of being distracted or not wearing your seatbelt can be devastating.”
Badry then mentioned the serious injuries one driver, a 40-year old man, suffered in a head-on crash near Nelson earlier this year. This driver reportedly was not wearing his seatbelt, was thrown from his car, and suffered critical injuries.
The other driver, a 36-year old woman wearing her seatbelt, was not seriously injured. Further, Badry reported there was a third vehicle caught up in the accident, but there were no injuries to the occupants as a result of the hit.
“The sad part is that wearing a seatbelt can make serious crashes survivable or minor crashes, without injury,” he said. “Whereas people who choose to not wear a seatbelt are not surviving serious crashes and/or suffer significant injuries for crashes where they should not be injured at all or would receive only minor injuries.”
According to provincial data, an average of 77 people die each year where driver distraction was a contributing factor and another 52 people die each year for failing to use a restraint.