Acting Cpl. Hayden Willems of the Langley RCMP traffic section lines up the new long-range scope the detachment has begun using to catch distracted drivers. Dan Ferguson Langley Times

One driver every five minutes is distracted: estimate

Langley RCMP deploy ultra-long range camera to catch drivers on cell phones

It’s kind of hard to claim you were holding your wallet near your head when the police have a photo clearly showing it was your cellphone.

Acting Cpl. Hayden Willems of the Langley RCMP traffic section said their new ultra-long range camera has been catching distracted drivers unawares from more than a kilometre away.

“We can see them before they see us,” Willems said.

Police have been using long-range spotting scopes used by birders and wildlife watchers to nab drivers who forget to wear seatbelts or talk on hand-held phones for years, but the addition of a camera that can record a high-definition image of motorists caught in the act is relatively recent.

The RCMP in B.C. began rolling them out last summer. The Langley detachment uses a Vortex spotting scope, coupled with an adapter that connects to a Nikon 3400 DSLR that produces 24.2-megapixel pictures in low light and can shoot up to five frames a second.

It can even be operated by remote control, ensuring the even the most far-sighted driver won’t see anything until it’s too late and the officer is explaining they have a photo.

“There’s no arguing it,” Willems said.

“A picture is worth a thousand words.”

More like $543, the first time.

On June 1 of last year, the provincial government hiked the fines for distracted driving for first-time offenders, who will now receive a $368 ticket and $175 for four penalty points for a total of $543.

Repeat offenders pay $368 plus escalating penalty points.

A second offence will cost $368 plus $520 in penalty points, for $888, rising in stages to $368 plus $14,520 in penalty points to $14,888.

The new fines put B.C. near the top of distracted driving fines for Canadian provinces, and two tickets in a year will also trigger an automatic review by the Superintendent of Motor Vehicles that could result in licence suspension.

Stats suggest that distracted driving is responsible for 22 per cent of fatal car accidents involving people between 16 and 21, or one in five youth killed in car crashes every year.

Cpl. Willems said Langley traffic police have been averaging roughly one distracted driver every five minutes when they set up the spotter scope and camera combination.

“We can get (as many as) one a minute,” he estimated.

During a recent one-hour enforcement blitz, Langley officers and volunteers caught 30 drivers using their cellphones and issued tickets for 16 intersection infractions, eight for failing to wear seatbelts, four for driving without a licence or while prohibited to drive, one for no insurance and three for other driving offences.

The wallet fib is popular, with more than one driver claiming they didn’t have their cellphone to their ear, it was a wallet.

Other common excuses are: ‘It’s work/child/spouse calling, I have to answer’, or ‘I was just answering to let them know I couldn’t talk,’ or ‘the phone is on speaker so it’s hands-free.’

In British Columbia, it is against the law to text, email, talk or otherwise hold an electronic device in your hand while operating a motor vehicle, including while the vehicle is stopped at a red light.