Despite harsh penalties and increased awareness, Alberta drivers still can’t seem to put their phones away.
During a three-day enforcement operation, Airdrie RCMP doled out 71 traffic tickets — 42 of which were distracted-driving offences.
“ frustrating and challenging,” Sgt. Darrin Turnbull said. “We wish it wasn’t happening.”
Police had to think outside the box when it came to catching the offenders. Using an unmarked van donated by a local dealership, Sgt. Turnbull was able to pull up beside vehicles and use the van’s height advantage to see exactly what drivers were doing behind the wheel.
“What we’ve realized over the last several years is people are getting a lot more cognizant of distracted-driving enforcement. They try to hide it – their cellphone is in their hands but it’s down low on their legs or their lap.” Turnbull said.
Riding alongside police during the enforcement operation was Stephen Battle and his daughter Melody.
In 2013, Melody was running late for work and decided to text her boss. Driving over 100 kilometres per hour, she collided with the back of a grader.
“My daughter will be brain-injured for the rest of her life. At 25 years old, she’s never going to get past a 14-year-old . She can’t cry, she can’t dream. Every goal in life, it’s pretty much gone,” Battle said.
The Battle family now advocates against distracted driving, hoping Melody’s story will help young drivers think twice before checking their phone behind the wheel.
While disappointed with the number of offenders police caught during their enforcement project, Battle remains optimistic.
“We’re getting there, there’s light at the end of this tunnel, I know it,” he said.
According to Sgt. Turnbull, RCMP and Alberta Sheriffs handed out 4,344 distracted-driving tickets last year on provincial roads. Turnbull said he’s personally familiar with one Calgary-area driver with 11 convictions alone.
“It would be nice if we could do a project like this and at the end of the week, only have one or two. But unfortunately, this week, when we have 42 distracted drivers in only three days, it means it’s still a problem,” Turnbull said.
In Alberta, the penalty for distracted driving is three demerit points and a $287 fine.
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