July 14th, 2024

Distracted driving charges down in 2016, mainly due to drivers being sneakier

By Peggy Revell on July 31, 2017.


A downswing in crime numbers would usually be a point of celebration — but that’s not the case when it comes to the decreasing number of Hatters being charged with distracted driving.

“It’s not because distracted driving is going down,” said Sgt. Clarke White, about the data in the Medicine Hat Police Service’s 2016 Annual Report. “The problem is motorists are basically training themselves to do it covertly and watch for police cars while doing it.”

In 2016, there were 666 cases of distracted driving recorded by police , compared to 915 in 2015, and 1,005 in 2014.

Driving around in a marked police car, White won’t see a single person texting or talking on the phone.

“However in my personal vehicle, I see it all day long.”

“It’s forcing us to become creative with our approach to it,” he said. They’ve just started using an unmarked vehicle to catch distracted driver. Another method is positioning a police officer somewhere covertly — such as on a hill with a spotting scope or binoculars — who can monitor traffic and relay ahead to police officers at a checkpoint who can then pull a person over. Or putting a plainscloth officer in areas like construction zones.

“The statistics across the country for injuries and deaths related to distracted driving have now surpassed impaired driving,” said White. “That’s a pretty big deal.”

While distracted driving poses a problem, impaired driving numbers show progress is being made.

“They’ve been rapidly decreasing since about 2011, when we had a peak of about 460,” said White. “(2016’s) 120 is far less than we’ve seen in the last 10 years.”

A number of things have contributed to these lower numbers, said White — changes to impaired driving laws so there’s more severe consequences, a zero-tolerance approach by police, as well as the public education on the impact of impaired driving.

The impending legalization of cannabis does pose a new problem for impaired driving.

“We can all predict that once it does become legalized there’s going to be far more people on the road who are driving under the influence, and we’re already seeing the numbers are rising for drug-impairment,” said White.

Alberta Justice has taken the lead right now, he explained, and they’re meeting regularly to determine a proper approach to enforcement.

The challenge is the Federal government’s timeline, he said, addling police will probably be playing catch-up with enforcement once legalization happens.

“At this point, there’s so many unknowns,” said White, pointing to the lack of a government tested and approved devices for measuring impairment, like the one used for alcohol.

One approach for now is training more drug recognition experts, he said, but that’s an objective measurement.

“Unless there’s science behind it, it really does become difficult for us to prove these things in court.”

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