Const. Hugh Smith has seen drivers doing some pretty irresponsible things, he says.
“Shaving, putting eyeliner on,” he said. “I even observed someone with a whole pizza box, open lid covering the steering wheel, and they were pulling the pizza apart with both hands — all while driving down a busy street.”
On Feb. 13, Toronto Police Traffic Services launched the Don’t Drive Distracted campaign, an initiative to teach drivers about the dangers of using hand-held devices on the road, as well as to make them aware of other distractions that can affect their focus.
“We’ve had the hands-free legislation since [October] 2009,” Smith said. “We’ve identified in the last few years that distracted drivers and the use of technology has crept in and become one of the main causes of serious injuries and fatalities.”
The legislation entails that drivers must only use devices that can be used hands-free, which includes: a cellphone with an earpiece or headset, or plugged into a vehicle’s sound system; a GPS that is properly secured to the dashboard; and a portable audio player that is plugged into the vehicles sound system.
Between February and December 2010, about 15,000 tickets for hands-free violations were issued, Smith said. In 2011, there were 23,118 tickets issued.
“The issue is growing and so are the number of people we are catching,” said Smith.
Whatever facet of transportation we’re using — whether it be bike, horse or TTC — we’ll catch them.
—Const. Hugh Smith
To catch offenders during the Don’t Drive Distracted campaign, police are using basic foot patrols, bicycle officers, mounted officers and even a group of 80 transit police officers riding the TTC.
“People don’t know where they come from,” said Smith. “They normally only look for police cruisers and then start texting. So it’s easy to catch them that way.”
“What they’re doing is really smart,” said Jane Bowen, a nurse at St. Michael’s Hospital and a regular streetcar rider. “Who would ever think that a cop could be watching them from public transit?”
This week’s campaign differs from previous ones because it does not only target drivers distracted by technology. Police are also looking for people driving with unsecured pets or slowing down to look at an accident.
Being caught driving distracted can result in a fine of $155. However, making careless or dangerous moves in traffic while distracted can lead to a a $400 fine and six demerit points.
Worse still, if a distracted driver causes an accident or injury, they could face a criminal charge and jail time.
“We must educate the public properly, and tell them about removing distractions or minimizing them to a number that will allow them to drive safely,” said Smith.
The Don’t Drive Distracted campaign officially ends this Sunday but, he said, transit police never stop looking for distracted drivers.
“Whatever facet of transportation we’re using — whether it be bike, horse or TTC — we’ll catch them.”