Drivers aren’t getting message around dangers of cellphone use: White Rock RCMP

Cell Watch volunteers were stationed along 16 Avenue/North Bluff Road Friday morning, including at 146 Street, where Raveena Basra, Jose Cardenas and Tanvir Gakhal were part of a prominent reminder to drivers to put their phones down. (Tracy Holmes photo)
White Rock RCMP Const. Chantal Sears continues on with her watch for distracted drivers at the intersection of North Bluff Road and Nichol Road Friday morning, as an officer pulls over a BMW whose driver she spotted using their phone behind the wheel. Several drivers received violation tickets for the activity during the Operation Hang Up blitz. (Tracy Holmes photo)
White Rock RCMP Const. Chantal Sears activates a device in her sleeve to signal a driver’s cellphone use to a waiting officer during Friday’s Operation Hang Up blitz. The white BMW – bearing a green ‘N’ decal – was pulled over moments later . (Tracy Holmes photo)
White Rock RCMP Const. Chantal Sears crosses North Bluff Road at Nichol Road, checking for drivers who are using their cellphone while stopped at the red light. (Tracy Holmes photo)
Surrey RCMP Const. Richard Wright speaks about distracted driving and Friday’s Operation Hang up efforts. (Tracy Holmes photo)

Friday was an expensive morning for several drivers in the South Surrey and White Rock area, as police and volunteers conducted a blitz targeting cellphone use behind the wheel.

In less than an hour, at least six drivers received a minimum $620 hit each – a combination of the violation fine and ICBC penalty point premiums for a first offence – for being spotted using their phone while driving near the intersection of North Bluff Road and Nichol Road.

“We’re seeing a lot of it,” White Rock RCMP Const. Chantal Sears said, of drivers who can’t resist texting, talking, scrolling and accessing social media.

“It’s fairly blatant. Some of them are trying to be discreet down by their lap, but we can see it, we know it’s happening.”

Friday’s blitz was dubbed Operation Hang Up, and was a partnership of Surrey and White Rock RCMP, ICBC and Vision Zero Surrey, as part of Distracted Driving Month efforts.

READ MORE: Surrey aims to reduce deaths, injuries on roads by 15% in next five years

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Sears, dressed as she would be on a day off, spent the morning tipping off a trio of officers to offending drivers that she spotted while walking near and across the intersection.

Surrey RCMP Const. Richard Wright told media that officers were also deployed across Surrey to conduct “covert and overt enforcement.”

“We are wanting to remind everyone that when they are driving, they should have their attention on the road, and not on their portable devices or anything else that distracts your attention from the road,” he said.

Distracted driving “causes a great number of injuries… and a great number of deaths on our roads every year,” Wright added.

“Now is the time to stop.”

Friday’s overt reminders that road safety is a shared responsibility included signage and brightly dressed Cell Watch volunteers, and several of both could be seen along the North Bluff Road/16 Avenue thoroughfare between 148 and 145 Streets.

Sears said despite efforts such as increased enforcement and penalties, distracted driving is “exponentially worse” than in the past.

“The message isn’t getting out. I think people now, it’s just part of society that you hear a bing and you answer your phone without even thinking that you’re driving,” she said.

“I would say it’s gotten much worse.”

Shabnem Afzal, manager of Vision Zero Surrey – which launched a year ago with an aim to reducing deaths and injuries on Surrey’s roads by 15 per cent by 2023 – said approximately 20 people die and 12,000 more are injured on Surrey roads every year. Last year, there were 16 such deaths in the city, and this year, the death toll already includes two pedestrians – one on Feb. 14 at the intersection of 183 Street and Highway 10 in Cloverdale, and another on Feb. 26 in the 10200-block of Highway 17.

Wright said it’s unknown at this time if distracted driving factored into either of the 2020 pedestrian fatalities.

Afzal said those who think nothing bad will ever come of them using their phones behind the wheel need to think again, including about just how great the impact of such actions can be.

“They think it’s harmless,” she said.

“If they think about the person they may likely hurt – it’s not just that person’s life that’s impacted and their family’s life, it’s also their own lives, because they have to carry around that guilt and the knowledge that them sending that last text took somebody’s life away.

“I don’t think anybody wants to be that person.”

Afzal noted that issue is not isolated to Surrey, but has been deemed an epidemic by the World Health Organization. It is the leading cause of death worldwide of people aged 15 to 29 years old, she said.

ICBC road-safety co-ordinator Karen Klein said drivers are five times more likely to be involved in a crash if they are using their cellphone.

“No phone call or text is worth the detriment of causing a car crash, hurting a loved one or anybody else,” she said.

Sears said she didn’t know what consequence would be severe enough to convince those who partake in the activity to stop, but she did have suggestions for those who are tempted: turn the phone off, get the app that recognizes when a vehicle is in motion and automatically sends a message to whoever is trying to reach the driver, or, get a completely hands-free device.

It’s “fairly simple,” she said.

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