By Joe Fries
It’s going to take a pretty creative excuse to get out of a ticket for violating B.C.’s new distracted driver law.
Effective Jan. 1, anyone caught holding a cell phone, PDA, portable music player or other electronic device while operating a motor vehicle is eligible for a $167 ticket. If the cop can prove you were actually using it, expect three demerit points, too.
That means simply fidgeting with a portable music player while stopped at a light is now against the law, according to RCMP Staff Sgt. Al Dengis, head of Central Okanagan Traffic Services.
“All the police are required to establish is that the individual was holding onto an electronic device,” he said.
Cops don’t have to prove that the device was in use or even on at the time of the offence.
“We simply have to show that you were driving the vehicle and holding the device,” Dengis explained.
He noted, though, that the tickets can be disputed in court where it will be your word against the cop.
Of course, if you have a regular Class 5 licence, there are numerous ways around the law, such as hands-free devices for phones and voice-activated GPS systems. If you’re a new driver in the graduated licensing program, there is no way around it.
Take heart, though, because police across B.C. won’t start writing tickets for B.C. drivers until Feb. 1 and will only issue warnings until then. Out-of-province visitors won’t get dinged until after April 1 in order to accommodate Olympic tourists, Dengis said.
He noted that cops won’t go too far out of their way with targetted enforcement to find people breaking the rules, but will keep their eyes peeled. ”If we see the offence, we’ll deal with it,” he added.
Dengis said no specific benchmarks have been set to measure the effectiveness of the legislation, which is aimed at curbing distracted driving, but likened it to seatbelt laws, which have proven remakably effective.
Notable exceptions to the law exist for police officers, paramedics and firefighters, who travel in vehicles stuffed with gadgets and are often seen using the devices while driving.
Dengis said emergency workers can still use onboard electronics “for duty purposes,” but that Mounties, at least, have been advised to do so carefully.
“We’re conveying the information to them that even though there is the exemption, they’re still required to be operating their vehicle in a safe manner.”
The provincial government has posted extensive information online that details the ins and outs of the new law.