Excuses, excuses. That’s what police across the province heard last month from British Columbia drivers who were caught using a hand-held device while driving. During the month-long crackdown in September on distracted driving, police estimate they issued more than 3,500 tickets to drivers for using an electronic device behind the wheel.
Drivers need to honestly examine their own driving behaviours and recognize when they are distracted – multi-tasking behind the wheel is driving distracted. A recent Ipsos Reid survey conducted on behalf of the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia (ICBC) revealed that over 50 per cent of respondents reported that they see other drivers violating the restrictions on using hand-held devices “several times a day”, yet only about 16 per cent admitted doing the same while driving in the past 12 months.
“It’s evident that there are still a lot of drivers who don’t realize that distracted driving can have tragic consequences,” said Shirley Bond, Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General. “Every time we get behind the wheel, we have peoples’ lives in our hands – whether they’re the lives of our passengers, other drivers, cyclists or pedestrians. We need to stop making excuses and adopt new driving habits.”
“We need to ask ourselves how we can all be part of making our roads safer,” said Fiona Temple, director of road safety at ICBC. “It comes down to understanding the dangers of driving distracted, being honest about our own driving behaviours and taking steps to prevent being distracted behind the wheel.”
“The excuses I’ve heard are incredible,” said Chief Jamie Graham, Victoria Police and Traffic Safety Committee Chair of the B.C. Association of Chiefs of Police. “One distracted driver even tried to tell me that he wasn’t on the phone – he was just listening. The reality is that there is no valid excuse because distracted driving is entirely preventable.”
Here are the top excuses that police heard from drivers who were caught using a hand-held device while driving:
1. This is a bogus law. This is the attitude that needs to change. Distracted driving can have serious and often tragic consequences. In B.C., about 25 per cent of all deaths in fatal crashes are related to distracted driving. These deaths are preventable, which is why this law was brought in and why police are out there enforcing it – to help make our roads safer.
2. It was my boss on the phone – I had to answer it. In B.C., crashes are the number-one cause of traumatic work-related deaths, according to WorkSafeBC statistics. On average, approximately 30 workers in B.C. are killed each year while driving. Your boss should be relieved that you were not only obeying the law, but reducing the risk of injuring or killing yourself and others while on the job.
3. I wasn’t using it – I just like to hold it. Some even use the excuse that they were holding their garage door opener or hairbrush. The reality is that driving is a complex task that requires our full attention. Anything – whether it is a garage door opener or a hairbrush – that takes your attention from the road is a distraction and can impact your ability to react to the unexpected.
4. Sorry officer, I didn’t see you trying to pull me over because I was on my phone. If you don’t notice a police car trying to pull you over, how would you notice nearby pedestrians and cyclists? Studies show that drivers who are talking on a cellphone lose about 50 per cent of what is going on around them, visually, while driving and are four times more likely to get in a crash. No call or text message is worth putting yourself and others at risk – let your calls go to voicemail and you don’t need to respond to text messages right away, or better yet, turn the cellphone off to avoid the temptation.
5. But it was an emergency call to my wedding planner! A real emergency would be if your vehicle flipped over in a ditch because you were distracted at the wheel by your phone. While the law exempts drivers needing to call 9-1-1 to reach the police, fire department or ambulance service about an emergency, it does not apply to personal situations – it has to be a real emergency situation.
6. My Bluetooth died. If your Bluetooth dies, pull over, change your voicemail to let callers know you’re on the road and you’ll return their call when it’s safe to do so. Enjoy your drive and let voicemail to do its job. Help create a culture where people don’t expect you to pick up the phone right away and don’t call others when you know they are behind the wheel.
7. Driver: I’m using my speakerphone. Police officer: No, you’re holding your phone in one hand and steering with the other. Hands-free doesn’t equal speakerphone. If you must take a call, use a hands-free electronic device and keep the conversation brief. Remember – a hands-free electronic device must be securely fixed to the vehicle or worn properly on the body (ear piece).
8. I’m not driving; I was stopped at a red light. This misconception needs to end right now: the law applies even when you’re stopped at a light or in bumper-to-bumper traffic.
9. I wasn’t talking, I was checking my messages. Under the law, drivers can’t use hand-held electronics while driving – that includes checking voice mail, making music selections or looking up phone numbers. Let calls go to voicemail and call back later when it's safe to do so. Better yet, turn off your cellphone and put it in the trunk or back seat to avoid the temptation.
10. I was just checking the time. There are no excuses for preventable tragedies. Imagine saying this to the emergency personnel and loved ones of someone seriously injured because of your carelessness.
If you find yourself trying to come up with similar excuses in case you’re stopped, think instead about the influence your smart driving decisions can have on others. You can help create a culture where your friends, family and colleagues don’t expect you to answer a call or text message right away.