Calgary distracted driving tickets drop since penalties stiffened

Calgary police have handed out 27 per cent fewer distracted driving tickets since penalties for the offence in Alberta were toughened up two years ago.

In 2015, the service issued 8,475 of the tickets, the vast majority to those caught using cellphones while operating a vehicle.

That number fell to 7,090 the following year and in 2017, dropped further to 6,198.

The latest numbers available show 2018 numbers to be on similar track to 2017.

Although on Jan. 1, 2016 penalties jumped from $172 to $287 while adding a three demerit point hit, it’s not clear the falling number of motorists caught means behaviour is improving, said acting Sgt. Mudassir Rana of the CPS traffic section.

“When I’m off duty, I still see it a lot,” he said.

“Even at Check Stops, people still have cellphones in their laps, which is more dangerous because you’re looking down.”

Distracted driving, he said, is like any other traffic offence — a very small percentage of offenders are actually nabbed, said Rana.

“It’s hard to say…the numbers are just the tickets issued,” he said.

“I think society is addicted to cellphones.”

In Alberta, the number of convictions for the offence fell from 27,417 in 2015 to 23,546 last year, a drop of 14 per cent.

Enforcement of those violations hasn’t changed significantly in the past few years, though there are periodic focuses on the offence and unmarked cars can be effective in detecting wayward motorists, said Rana.

He didn’t have data for the number of crashes attributed to distracted motoring because driver honesty is difficult to determine, but said “it’s a cause of many collisions.”

One insurance company, Aviva said last year claims in Alberta for distracted driving accidents rose by 58 per cent in 2016 and 2017, the highest rate in the country.

Rana noted that on Jan. 1, Ontario hiked its penalties for the offence to a possible $1,000 fine, the loss of three demerit points and a three-day driving suspension.

Those penalties are doubled and tripled for second and third offences.

Local courts have more recently become far less lenient towards distracted drivers, said Rana.

“In the past two years, the courts have become super strict, 99 per cent don’t offer any deals,” he said.

“The courts are spreading a message.”

While cellphone use constitutes the lion’s share of the violations, the officer said police have come across a wide variety of faux pas, including applying makeup, clipping fingernails and watching DVDs.

“One member of my team caught someone eating with both hands — when you’re holding a steering wheel between your legs, it’s not the best way to drive,” he said.

“I once saw a lady reading a book.”

Motorists are frequently brazen enough to use their phones to photograph incident scenes attended by police “when their passengers can safely do it,” said Rana.

And too many drivers, he added, think using cellphones when they’re stopped is a legitimate practise.

“Stopped at red lights, it’s relatively safer but it’s still illegal,” he said.

BKaufmann@postmedia.com

on Twitter: @BillKaufmannjrn

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