December 6, 2013 Sections
Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
It's like a chain we can't break -- talking on our cellphone while driving or sending a quick text or email when stopped at a traffic light.
For reasons that are hard to explain, we're attached to our mobile devices like leashed dogs. When they beep, buzz, or blip, we must obey, even if it means risking crashing into a vehicle in front of us or hitting a pedestrian because we didn't see the light turn red. We were too busy.
We also think we're immune to getting caught -- it's somebody else who'll get caught because we're too smart. It'll be some other poor slob who'll get dinged the $200 fine and see two demerits on their driver's licence.
That's a behaviour Winnipeg Police Service Insp. Jim Poole wants to change. The 31-year veteran, who's in charge of policing in the downtown, has put cellphone scofflaws at the top of his list for public safety.
And he's more than willing to slide out from behind his desk at the Public Safety Building and into his "ghost-car-that-lights-up-like-a-Christmas-tree" to go after those cellphone scofflaws. A few of them met Poole Friday.
"We just want everybody out there to get to where they are going safely," Poole said, as he showed the Free Press some of his tricks to pick people off.
Or more like shoot dead fish in a barrel, a clear sign the high penalties have done little to dissuade drivers from using their mobile phones, he said.
"We aren't getting the compliance we would have wanted," he said. "I want to make downtown, as we do for the rest of the city, a safe place for pedestrians, cyclists and the people driving their own cars. I truly think that some people are uneducated on (what) the actual law is and what they can use them (mobile devices) for.
"It's about breaking the habit of being tied to the device."
Police and Manitoba Public Insurance do not have concise data on the number of traffic mishaps directly attributable to cellphone use or texting. However, MPI said about 25 road deaths a year can be linking to distracted driving, which includes texting behind the wheel or having an animated conversation. That's 160 deaths since 2005. MPI also said a texting driver is 23 times more likely to get into a crash.
"I have no misconception about saying this could see a situation where someone gets that phone call -- no one wants to get that phone call about a traffic incident and the loss of a loved one. And we both know how this often goes: It's the innocent person in the other vehicle who passes on."
The two most common excuses for people he's ticketed, about 100 in the past year, is they thought they could use their phone while in speaker mode and they could use their phone while stopped at a red light.
Both are against the law. So is checking your phone's GPS or map application while driving.
Two of the drivers ticketed by Poole were doing just that.
"I know it was wrong," said one glum, 23-year-old man, who was using his phone to find a pancake restaurant. "I don't know what else to say. It's just not worth a fine. It's not worth the demerits either."
Another driver stopped by Poole was using her phone to tell her employer she was running late and would be at work soon.
"If your company expects you to place calls when you're driving then they should be buying you a Bluetooth (hands-free system)," Poole said.
Poole's experience in pulling people over is there is no one age group that dominates texting and driving.
"It's everyone who has a phone," he said.
Canada's Traffic Injury Research Foundation recently reported drivers under 25 are far more likely than older drivers to send text messages or emails while driving. In a survey, 70 per cent of respondents 16 to 25 years old admitted to sending text messages or emails while driving.
Of the half dozen people he pulled over Friday, only one was in that age group. The rest were older. And of those six, two had valid excuses and did not get a ticket. One driver was driving to his child's school to deal with an incident and the second showed Poole he was using a recording device to dictate notes.
One woman, with a small child in the rear seat, seemed to be so engrossed with her phone she did not hear Poole's police siren to pull her over. The woman claimed she was using the GPS function.
Each of those he pulled over, while upset, was polite. "When I'm out doing these stops, I'm not getting the line 'I should be doing something better,' " Poole said.
"I get people telling me 'Thanks.' "
A hand-operated electronic device means:
Using it means holding the device in your hands to:
What you should do:
Cellphone enforcement by the numbers
2010 -- 1,192 violations (cell phone ban came into effect July 15, 2010)
2011 -- 3, 568 violations
2012 -- 4,837 violations
2013 -- 2,200 to date (550 since Aug. 1 when two demerits points were added to $200 fine)
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 8, 2013 B4
Updated on Tuesday, October 8, 2013 at 6:25 AM CDT:
Replaces photo, adds video