The task was simple: I was to walk through pylons and obstacles in a small course while texting a message to a co-worker on my cell phone.
“You missed the stop sign,” said Betty Selin, co-host of Sun FM’s Sunrise Show as I negotiated my way through the course behind the Vernon fire hall.
“What stop sign?” I asked as I looked up.
Oh. That one right in front of me as I started the course.
It took me a few minutes but I made my way through the maze of pylons while texting co-worker Jennifer Smith. Apparently I missed the picture of the child at the crosswalk and the picture of the dog as well. Those two things were pointed out to me at the end of the course.
The text to Jennifer was supposed to read: “Hi Jennifer. I just went through a stop sign on my test.”
Instead, this is what Jennifer received: “Hi Lennifer. I just ewwntthtru a stop dodgy on my tray.”
Alright. So I was distracted. Guilty.
Vernon Citizens Patrol volunteers and the Safe Communities Unit helped support ICBC’s Distracted Driving Campaign by setting up a walking obstacle course Monday to show how being distracted impacts the ability to perform other tasks.
Using traffic cones, barricade tape and other roadway hazards, participants had to navigate the course while walking and texting, trying to avoid any crashes along the way.
Citizens Patrol volunteer Mary-Anne Morgan considers herself a good texter. She couldn’t even send her message to her brother-in-law.
“It was a huge challenge,” said Morgan. “I couldn’t even start texting. I didn’t get past ‘Jim.’ It was really tough.”
Vernon-North Okanagan RCMP constables Steven Schenkeveld and Gary McLaughlin, both members of the North Okanagan Traffic Services squad who are used to dealing with distracted drivers, also went through the course.
They, too, did not go through unscathed. Both missed or bumped into signs.
And that’s all it takes behind the wheel of a vehicle: one second looking at your phone to lose sight of the road.
“We see it so much but the public doesn’t understand or can’t comprehend that if you take your eyes off the road for that one second your vehicle is in motion, it travels a certain distance and your car is travelling that distance without any control whatsoever,” said McLaughlin.
“The car doesn’t have eyes. You need to have the eyes.”
Recent statistics show that distracted driving has nearly surpassed impaired driving for causing fatalities.
In B.C. in 2013, there were 88 fatalities involving distracted driving, including 32 in the Southern Interior.
It’s not one particular age group, or one particular gender. It’s all walks of life, said McLaughlin, when it comes to motorists using a cell phone behind the wheel.
“People can’t put their phones down,” he said. “They’re addicted to their phones, absolutely. Cell phones have become such a normal part of our lives. But it’s so easy to just pull your car over before talking or texting.”
The two officers both have jaw-dropping stories when it comes to pulling over distracted drivers.
Just this past weekend, McLaughlin recounted how he was doing a campaign with fellow officers on 27th Street, 500 metres up from Highway 6.
There were three fully marked police vehicles and the officers were each wearing their yellow traffic jackets when a woman in her mid-20s passed them texting on her phone. She never saw the officers. Period.
“I also pulled over this one guy who had a “No Cell Phones” sticker on his car,” chuckled McLaughlin.
“The guy said to me, ‘I guess I’m the hypocrite today.’”
Schenkeveld was watching traffic on 27th Street when he saw a woman using her cell phone as a GPS instrument, looking for an address, in one hand. In her other hand? A fast-food salad.
“She was basically driving the vehicle with her knees,” said Schenkeveld.
The Vernon Citizens Patrol looks to educate drivers through its cell watch program.
“Our volunteers will be on the streets watching for distracted driving,” said Regan Borisenko of Vernon Citizens Patrol and the RCMP Safe Communities Unit.
“They take down the sex of the driver, licence plate number and make and colour of the vehicle, and forward the information to the RCMP.
“They in turn forward a warning letter to the registered owner of the vehicle, telling them they’ve been observed using an electronic device.”
The local RCMP have averaged 15 such letters per month over the past four months.
The fine for talking on your cell phone while driving is $167. The fine is the same for texting and driving, but the motorist is also given three demerit points.
Motorists are four times more likely to crash if distracted on their phone. ICBC and police are asking drivers to leave their phones alone when they’re on the road.