Dennis McWhirter, Henry Strong and Ron Bilinsky (l to r) were three of ten volunteers helping the RCMP with “Operation Hang Up”. (Tim Collins/Sooke News Mirror)

Dennis McWhirter, Henry Strong and Ron Bilinsky (l to r) were three of ten volunteers helping the RCMP with “Operation Hang Up”. (Tim Collins/Sooke News Mirror)

Hang up the phone while driving!

Sooke’s Operation Hang Up shows some drivers haven’t gotten the message

Drivers in downtown Sooke on Wednesday morning may have noticed a group of individuals, clad in blue vests and holding clipboards paying close attention to passing vehicles.

It’s was all part of a program dubbed “Operation Hang Up” in which community policing volunteers, in conjunction with regular officers of the RCMP took to the streets to spread the message that it’s a really bad idea to be using one’s cell phone while driving.

“We’re out here and we record every car going by and how many are using their phones as they drive,” said Ron Bilinsky, the Chair of the Sooke RCMP/ICBC Citizens on Patrol.

“It’s really quite surprising how many people we see on their phones. It seems that they just haven’t got the message that it’s an irresponsible and dangerous thing to do.”

According to the Province of B.C., distracted driving, in all of its forms, is the second-highest contributing factor to motor vehicle-related fatalities in B.C..

It’s estimated that the habit causes 88 deaths per year and it’s estimated that over 9,500 drivers are using a hand-held device while driving at any given time in B.C., with 40% of those drivers texting behind the wheel.

The fines for distracting driving alone should be enough of a deterrent to the practice, according to an RCMP spokesperson, with a first offence totalling $543 for a first infraction (including the ICBC Driver Penalty Point premium.

Drivers with two or more infractions can end up paying as much as $2,000 per offence.

Despite those penalties and the deaths caused by the practice, it seems that some Sooke drivers still have not managed to put their phones down.

“I’ve seen five drivers in the first hour and a half and I’m only one of ten volunteers out here today. It’s amazing and a little disheartening,” said Bilinsky.

And the volunteers were not just looking for cell phone use.

“In the first hour-and-a-half, I’ve seen 15 people without seatbelts. I would have thought that people would know better,” said Dennis McWhirter, another of the volunteers on the street.

“I only hope that we can get the message out there to put down the phones and wear seat belts. It only makes sense.”