January 24, 2014
For The New Brunswick Beacon
Distracted driving is still one of the primary causes of fatal car accidents in New Brunswick, says the RCMP.
In 2013, more than 60 per cent of the 38 crashes with 48 deaths involved drinking and driving, dangerous driving, not wearing a seatbelt and distracted driving. That is the lowest number in five years and is down from the previous year’s count: 54 crashes with 58 deaths.
Most distributed tickets for distracted driving in New Brunswick are for the use of handheld electronic devices, like cell phones, says RCMP Sgt. James Bates. It has been illegal since 2011.
Bates added that it is difficult for the RCMP to know how many fatal accidents are caused by cell phone use, since you don’t know what the driver was doing when the crash occurred.
“We focus mostly on what the vehicle was doing at the time of the accident, then we get the toxicology report,” said Sgt. Bates.
Under New Brunswick’s law, you cannot send texts messages, take calls through your cellphone or touch GPS devices or MP3 players while driving. Bus and truck drivers may use two-way radios, but for everyone else, breaking of the law will cost $172.50 and three points off your license.
In Fredericton, police gave out over 200 tickets to drivers between October and December.
“It’s a problem, but we we’re working on enforcing it,” said Fredericton Department of Public Safety spokesperson Alycia Morehouse. She added that there are many repeat offenders in Fredericton.
Despite distracted driving being one of the main causes of fatal collisions, the number of tickets given out by the RCMP in New Brunswick has decreased by 32 per cent, from 1080 tickets in 2012 to 763 tickets in 2013.
“There’s probably been less enforcement,” said Sgt. Bates. “A lot of our resources have gone to other issues.”
Not all drivers who are discovered on their phones get a ticket. Some, like Steven Butler, 22, are issued warnings.
Butler was pulled over after he was caught using his cell phone in an intersection at a red light. He didn’t know it was illegal to use phones while stopped.
The officer noticed Butler’s bag of lifeguard supplies in the back and let him off with a warning, since they were both in “the business of saving lives.”
“If they’re that lenient then, yeah, a lot of people might get off with warnings,” said Butler.
Many people also argue that their tickets were not merited. On the morning of January 17 alone, four men appeared before Judge Mary Jane Richards to enter pleas of not guilty.
Justice Richards did not seem to take the issue lightly and told the court that she tends to double fines if she finds accused distracted drivers to be guilty.
“I will decide whether or not you have a case,” emphasized Justice Richards.