Chilliwack Progress

Texting while driving still epidemic

Lori Barillaro, owner of The Art of Driving School, has introduced a program to her school called Buckle Ur Phone where students are given red thumb bands to remind them not to text while driving.  - JENNA HAUCK/ PROGRESS
Lori Barillaro, owner of The Art of Driving School, has introduced a program to her school called Buckle Ur Phone where students are given red thumb bands to remind them not to text while driving.
— image credit: JENNA HAUCK/ PROGRESS

When it comes to safe driving, the advent of the smart phone has changed everything.

Just ask Art of Driving School owner Lori Barillaro.

She's out driving the Chilliwack streets all day, schooling people in a range of safe driving techniques.

Texting while driving is still a dangerous and perennial problem.

"I see people coming towards me, crossing the centre line by a foot or so," Barillaro says. "As I get closer I see it's because they're on the phone."

Enter the bright red anti-texting band, Buckle UR Phone, devised by a U.S. teenager and her brother on the eastern seaboard who were concerned about traffic fatalities caused by texting drivers.

Barillaro brought the no-texting bands to Chilliwack.

The Art of Driving is proud to be the first driving school in Canada to make it part of the driver education program, she said.

The red band is meant to be placed on a thumb as a visual cue, or on a key chain.

Her students sign a pledge not to text and drive, are given one of the red bands, and a No-texting sticker to put on the dash.

"Not only do kids and new drivers need to be educated about it, they need a reminder."

Not all kids want to wear the red no-texting band on their thumbs.

"But if they won't wear it we say to at least put it on a key chain, that way they can still see the red ring and be reminded."

It's important, because distracted driving is a leading cause of car crash fatalities in B.C.

One quarter of all fatal crashes in B.C. from 2007 to 2011 were related to distracted driving, according to police statistics. In 2012, it was 30 per cent.

The most interesting thing about this is that it's one of the simplest problems of all to solve.

"Just put your phone away," says Mike Weightman, Lower Mainland road safety coordinator for ICBC.

If you can't help yourself, stash it in the trunk.

"Concentrate on driving from A to B first, then make that call or text."

He's even got some advice for parents.

"So the kids have phones and they're out driving. Sometimes their parents will text them, but that can be adding to the problem. We tell folks that if your kids are en route somewhere, don't even try to contact them."

Despite the simplicity of it, the message is hard to get across.

They're seeing the texting and driving habit entrenched among drivers of all ages and genders.

"People need to step up to the plate and do the right thing," says Weightman. "What is alarming is that distracted driving and cell phone use become a more common cause of traffic fatalities than impaired driving."

And it's a phenomenon across the Western world, not just B.C.

It works out to an average of 94 deaths per year, making distracted driving the

third-leading cause of motor vehicle fatalities in B.C., behind speeding and impaired driving.

So it's perfect timing.

The entire month of February sees the annual Distracted Driving campaign underway by RCMP, where drivers can expected stepped up enforcement across the province.

Since legislation was passed, banning the use of handheld devices in 2010, police have written a whopping 105,972 tickets.

"In the month of February police across B.C. will be targeting drivers who operate vehicles while using a handheld device," says Cpl. Robert McDonald of BC RCMP Traffic Services.

A little known fact is that Graduated License Program drivers (L and N drivers) are not permitted any use of electronic devices, including hands-free devices.

It's all about increased danger.

Drivers who are seen breaking the rules of the road while on their phone can be hit with a ticket for Driving without Due Care and Attention, which comes with a fine of $368.

Offences that put others at risk, including speeding, unsafe lane changes, following too closely, failing to obey traffic control device will trigger the increased penalty.

“Holding a cell phone in your hand on speaker phone is an offence under the Motor Vehicle Act of Using an Electronic Device While Driving and could result in a fine of $167.

"This also applies to leaving the cell phone on your console and typing while stopped in traffic."

Safer driving tips from ICBC:

• Make any calls before you get in the vehicle;

• Set a reminder with free ringtones at icbc.com/

drivesmart;

• Pull over to make/receive a call;

• Let voice mail pick up since it's safer to retrieve voice mails and text

messages later; and

• Let passengers make/receive calls/texts for the driver. Or switch seats and let the passenger drive if you're expecting a text or call.

jfeinberg@theprogress.com

Twitter.com/chwkjourno

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