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Northumberland OPP nab distracted drivers

By PETE FISHER, Northumberland Today


Ontario Provincial Police are trying to prevent distracted driving.

On Wednesday, four officers took part in an initiative to spot distracted drivers along Highway 401.

Inattentive driving is linked to more collisions on OPP patrolled roads so far this year than speeding and alcohol/drug-related collisions combined.

Since Jan. 1, driver distraction has been reported as the primary cause in 6,360 road collisions. In contrast, speed was the primary cause in 4,700 crashes while 1,158 of the incidents involved a driver who consumed alcohol or drugs.

A total of 47 people have died so far this year because of an inattentive driver, which is up from 39 such deaths this time last year.

In just over three hours, Northumberland OPP charged six drivers with distracted driving.

OPP use a non-traditional police vehicle with one officer driving while another officer keeps an eye out for distracted drivers, which is usually people on their cell phones.

“We’ll have (marked) vehicles set up to intercept these vehicles if they (the driver) are operating with any kind of electronic device while driving,” said OPP Constable Jeff Laporte.

“Quite often as they are approaching us we can see one hand on the wheel, head bobbing, seemed to be distracted. Once they pass, we observe the phone, obtain the licence plate and description and radio ahead to an intercept vehicle, all the while maintaining visual contact with the vehicle.”

During that time, officers observe the driving habits of the vehicle while waiting for a marked cruiser to safely pull the vehicle over to the shoulder and issue a ticket.

“Several vehicles today we could see them weaving in their lane,” Laporte said Wednesday. “Two of the vehicles crossed onto the rumble strips and crossed the yellow line.”

Laporte said the majority of the time people on their phones tend to be in the fast lane.

“Not only is it illegal, but considering the speeds they are passing us, using their electronic devices, we’ve had to maintain a speed to make sure the correct vehicle gets stopped by the officer.”

Laporte recalled one instance when officers in the non-traditional vehicle were following a driver while waiting for a marked cruiser, a transport passed on the right side.

“While we were maintaining observation of the vehicle in front, a tractor-trailer beside me, I thought he was taking a (off) ramp, then realized there was no ramp and the truck was driving onto the shoulder while he’s on his cell phone,” Laporte said. “You’ve got that large 18-wheeler running onto the shoulder – it’s pretty dangerous all around.”

A female driver stopped by police was actually playing a game on her phone when stopped by police.

“One of the operators...advised she was not using her phone, she was actually playing Candy Crush, which is still an offence – it’s an electronic device,” Laporte said.

Laporte said officers observed her crossing the line several times as they followed her before a marked police cruiser activated emergency lights and the woman pulled over to the shoulder of the road.

Along with the bad drivers, Laporte said there were many drivers who were paying attention with their hands properly on the steering wheel.

The non-traditional vehicle police were using has been around for over a year and used by many different OPP detachments along with OPP teaming up with Cobourg and Port Hope police services.

The fine each driver faces when charged with distracted driving is $490 and six demerit points.

“The fine has gone up over the last few years and I think that has deterred a little bit, but we’re still seeing a large issue with distracted driving causing a lot of crashes and fatalities,” Laporte said.