Calgary Sun - - FRONT PAGE - BILL KAUF­MANN bkauf­[email protected]­ @Bil­lKauf­man­njrn

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 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 record­ing 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 videos.

“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 prac­tice.

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

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