A VicPD officer issues a distracted driving ticket earlier this year. (Photo courtesy of VicPD)

VicPD hopes distracted driving education pilot gains provincial traction

Ticketed offenders given option of accepting fine and points or taking seminar

VicPD has launched an educational pilot program that aims to reduce distracted driving.

Although there have been increased fines and penalty points – it’s now $543 and four demerit points for the first infraction – fatalities related to distracted driving are still higher than from impaired driving.

VicPD teamed up with Restorative Justice Victoria, ICBC, RoadSafetyBC and the Traffic Injury Research Foundation to offer distracted driving education to first-time offenders ticketed during a two-day campaign last month. Those caught were given the option of attending the Drop it and Drive seminar or taking the fine and demerit points – 32 of 42 ticketed drivers attended.

The groups hope their efforts lead to a provincewide education campaign.

VicPD Const. Sean Millard, who has been involved with the new program, hopes an educational approach can help drivers understand how dangerous distracted driving can be, and change their attitudes.

“When people came in, they came with their arms crossed, their body language was cold and they were shut down to opening up and participating,” he said.

But as the seminar continued, he said, he could see a shift happening.

“I could see the impact on people. They could visually see what the consequences were …[thinking] ‘wait a second, is this really worth it?’”

People often don’t understand what distracted driving is, Millard said. Comments made by seminar participants indicated a belief that texting at a red light or moving to plug in a phone while driving was acceptable, he said. And the temptation people feel to check their phones can be irresistible.

“I think the sound of a phone going off, people just can’t not look at it. They’re afraid of missing that two seconds in life that someone may have sent an important message,” he said. “Sometimes I think people think [the messages] are more important than they are.”

But it’s not just about texting and driving, he said.

“Distracted driving is [also] when your three-year-old kid is throwing a fit in the back seat and you turn around to soothe them and take your eyes off the road and get in a rear-end collision.”

Drop it and Drive was presented by Karen Bowman, a civilian who’d been hit by distracted drivers twice, including one incident where her daughter was injured.

The Traffic Injury Research Foundation will follow up with participants after six and 12 months through anonymous survey, to determine whether their attitudes and actions have changed. VicPD will also be checking their databases to see if the drivers re-offend.

lauren.boothby@vicnews.com

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