Catching distracted drivers 'like shooting ducks in a barrel,' says Edmonton police chief

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If anyone has ideas about how to stop people from texting while driving, Edmonton's top cop is all ears.

"I don't think it's hit its peak yet," Edmonton police Chief Rod Knecht told the city's police commission Thursday.

"I don't think the tickets are indicative of the problem. I think the problem's much worse," Knecht said. 

​"Our members will write tickets but they'll just say, 'Well, I've got other work to do too [so] I can't just write distracted driving tickets all day,' " he added. "Because I think they could write distracted driving tickets all day — it is an attitudinal thing."

Knecht said the police usually see younger drivers using their phones to text behind the wheel, while drivers 35 years of age and older use their phones the old-fashioned way, holding them to their faces.

"If it's not blatant, where the driver has got the phone up to their ear, then you see the person that's looking down, and looking down, looking down, and you pull them over right away," he said.

'Shame on those people'

The number of tickets issued backs up the chief's message. 

In the first three months of 2015, EPS wrote 975 tickets for distracted driving. That number jumped to 1,560 in the first quarter of 2016. In the first three months of this year, police handed out 2,455 tickets.

"Shame on those people that are doing it, because we are seeing increased accidents as a result of of it," Knecht said. "They're putting themselves in danger, they're putting the public in danger."

'It is like shooting ducks in a barrel out there'

The police say they've tried educating the public but it hasn't worked.

In British Columbia, officers have posed as construction workers at traffic lights who then radio ahead to officers who can ticket violators.

In Ontario, officers have been riding public transport buses to gives them a higher, more concealed vantage point to look into cars and catch texters and talkers. 

But Knecht says none of those strategies are even needed in Edmonton because the problem is so prolific.

"It is like shooting ducks in a barrel out there as far as getting distracted drivers," said Knecht. "It is so easy it's ridiculous."

What may end up being the best deterrent, according to the chief, are the new rules put in place by the province on January 1, 2016. 

Losing licence may be the key

The new penalty for distracted driving in Alberta is a $287 fine and three demerit points.  

But drivers in British Columbia have it much worse. 

Fines in B.C. were hiked from $167 to $368 and four penalty points in June 2016. For a first infraction, drivers pay an extra $175 penalty, bringing the total cost for one ticket to $543. Get caught twice and the price escalates to $888. Two infractions in one year will cost a driver $1,431.

Knecht is hoping the potential loss of a licence is what might turn the tide.

"They'll get that second one and now their licence is in jeopardy and they'll start to pay attention to that," he said. "But that takes time."

"This is the first year where we've got demerits on distracted driving. I say give that a one-year cycle and we'll see if there is change. I'm optimistic there will be change, but right now I can tell you that people are flagrantly violating the law and not paying any attention to it at all."