• Saturday , 4 February 2023

Speeding, distracted driving still a problem in Peachland

Volunteers conduct one of their weekly speed watches along Highway 97 near Peachland.

Volunteers conduct one of their weekly speed watches along Highway 97 near Peachland.

Drivers slow down when they see volunteers with high-visibility vests and a radar gun, but according to Peachland’s Speed Watch coordinator Wayne Hemsley, it isn’t necessarily local leadfoots that the organization is watching for these days.

Hemsley says the group is becoming more concerned about the increasing number of incidents involving distracted drivers.

“Cell phones are a big problem,” Hemsley told The View at the conclusion of a recent Speed Watch blitz.

“We see a lot of people texting and talking on the phone. You would think after all the stories you hear about people getting in accidents, they would stop, but it seems to be getting worse.”

Acting district advisory NCO Cst. Kris Clark says it has been illegal to use personal electronic devices, including a hand-held cell phone, while driving in British Columbia since Jan. 1, 2010.

In B.C., the penalty for emailing and texting while driving is $167, plus three demerit points on a driver’s record.

Despite the deterrents, Clark says ICBC statistics have shown distracted driving to be the second-leading cause of motor vehicle fatalities in B.C., with an average of 88 per year, behind speeding (105) and narrowly ahead of impaired driving (86). In 2013, 51,000 tickets were issued in B.C. for distracted driving.

“That’s a huge number,” Clark noted.

“People are still continuing to commit this offence. Police are still ticketing for it. It’s not going away and it’s a very real problem.”

But Hemsley thinks the government should be doing more. The longtime volunteer says he wants to see the government act on evidence to crack down on distracted driving. “I don’t think the fines are big enough,” Hemsley added.

“I think people using their phones while driving should get their phones taken away.”

In addition to Speed Watch, Hemsley leads a 26-member team known as Citizens on Patrol, who volunteer to act as the extra “eyes and ears” for law enforcement in the community. Once a week members set up “speed traps” to observe motorists driving through Peachland.

He says the group primarily assists police to deter crime in their communities and improve safe driving habits.

Volunteers meet receive training, always patrol in pairs and do not take enforcement action.

“We only observe and report,” Hemsley said.

Teams also look for “unusual” activities in neighbourhoods, parks and parking lots.

The group also works closely with the RCMP who coordinate the stolen auto recovery program. Recovery volunteers cruise the streets looking for stolen vehicles.

Using a smartphone and laptop, volunteers enter license plate numbers of vehicles, using stolen auto data stored in the smartphone for reference. When a stolen vehicle is spotted, they radio the police to report the location.

Between 1994 and 2005 volunteers recovered 8,817 stolen vehicles and 1,122 stolen license plates in British Columbia.

Hemsley says some communities have seen a reduction in criminal activity by as much as 20 per cent as a result of active COP groups; a fact Hemsley says he takes great pride in.

“It feels good to give back to the community and help make it a safer place,” he said. “It’s great to know we have an impact.”

The Peachland Citizens on Patrol are currently recruiting and accepting applications for new volunteers for both programs.

Candidates must be at least 19, posses a clean driving record and be able to dedicate a few hours per month.

To apply or to receive more information on the program visit the Community Policing office on 6th Street across from the Community Centre between Monday and Friday.

Erin Christie  /  Peachland View

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