September 06, 2013 - 2:28 PM
VERNON - If you're driving with a cell phone in your hand, Bill and Roy are out to catch you.
Armed with binoculars and clipboards, the two Citizen Patrol volunteers are on a mission to make the roads safer as part of Cell Watch, a new distracted driving campaign involving police, ICBC and Citizen Patrol.
"It really peeves me off that people are so inconsiderate so as to think they have the right to drive and talk. Driving is a privilege," Bill Mikoula says.
He and partner Roy Heinrichs are stationed at the corner of 32nd Street and Highway 6 by the fountain at Polson Park, which is considered one of Vernon's highest risk intersections.
According to the RCMP, a quarter of all car crash fatalities in B.C. are caused by distracted driving, with an average of 34 people dying in the Southern Interior every year. Between 1-2 p.m., Mikoula says they recorded 14 distracted drivers, or one every four minutes. And that's not counting the ones that got away.
The binoculars and the notebook aren't just for show or statistics. They help Mikoula and Heinrichs record license plates, the sex of the driver, and the colour of the car. After the records are turned in to RCMP, the drivers are sent a warning letter in the mail. After three letters, they get a $167 fine, and three penalty points added to their license.
"A lot of people will see us and drop their cell phones between their legs," Mikoula says.
"Others will drive right by," Heinrichs adds.
Some drivers give them the finger, and some are so distracted they don't even notice them at all.
"It's amazing how many people will use their cell phone at the intersection," Mikoula says.
During their shift, they witnessed a very close call involving a pedestrian who just about got hit by a distracted driver while stepping onto the crosswalk.
"Luckily the pedestrian was paying attention," Heinrichs says.
And while cell phones are the main culprits, there are other dangerous distractions as well.
"We see the occasional woman doing her make-up, and food is another big one," Mikoula says. "You're driving with one hand and a milkshake in the other."
"Any kind of distraction with traffic getting so ridiculous these days is dangerous," Heinrichs says, adding you're throwing the dice each time you send a text or dial a number.
During this interview, several drivers cruised through the intersection with their eyes glued to their cell phones.
"It ticks me off," Mikoula says. "They're breaching the law, and they figure they're getting away with it, and they're pleased with that."
The Cell Watch program is the first of its kind and will continue for six more weeks. Heinrichs says the initial program is to "see how bad it is."
And with a distracted driver passing by every few minutes, he suspects the results won't be good.
To contact the reporter for this story, email Charlotte Helston at firstname.lastname@example.org, call (250)309-5230 or tweet @charhelston.
News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2013