On the phone while behind the wheel. Police say far too many drivers can't put down their devices.

Road reality out of step with distracted driving beliefs

Tickets rise despite poll showing most convinced of risk

A new poll shows B.C. drivers overwhelmingly believe talking or texting behind the wheel on a mobile phone is extremely dangerous.

Yet 16 per cent admit talking recently on a handheld phone and nine per cent admit they texted or emailed while driving.

The Ipsos Reid survey conducted for ICBC found 87 per cent of respondents believe texting or emailing while driving is one of the riskiest behaviours on the road and 50 per cent believe talking on a handheld phone is as risky as drunk driving.

The results come after RCMP said they ticketed 2,043 Lower Mainland drivers over a six-week period this summer – nearly twice as many as the 1,197 tickets for $167 issued in the same period in 2010.

RCMP Insp. Norm Gaumont said the ticket blitz showed lots of people continue to text or talk on their phones – even 18 months after B.C. brought in its distracted driving law.

“It’s a new phenomenon that’s come upon us – a young generation that are really tied to their devices and they can’t let them go,” he said.

“I see it every day. People are still using their phones, still texting. They’re looking down at their knees.”

Distracted or inattentive driving is the number one cause of 45 per cent of fatal crashes in the Lower Mainland, Gaumont said, adding it’s the worst rate of any region in the province.

“It really causes devastation on our road ways,” he said.

Gaumont said another RCMP ticket blitz in September will again target illegal use of electronic devices and failure to use seatbelts.

More than half of drivers surveyed in the Ipsos poll reported seeing other drivers break the ban on handheld device use several times a day.

The top excuses for using a hand-held phone while driving?

Forty-two per cent said it was a very short call or they use the speaker function.

Others said they pulled over after answering (37 per cent) or they were stopped at a red light (29 per cent).

Still others said they don’t have a hands-free system or that “it’s simply a force of habit.”

“Many people don’t realize that it’s also illegal to take a call or text while waiting in traffic or stopped for a red light,” said Fiona Temple, ICBC’s director of road safety.

“You lose 50 per cent of what’s going on around you when you’re talking or texting on a hand-held device. This makes you four times more likely to get in a crash.”

For info on distracted driving penalties and tips on safe use of cellphones, see www.drivecellsafe.ca.