Sneaky texter gets a break, but not the point

If the sudden brake lights and overall decrease in acceleration I observe when in traffic are to be believed, the majority of drivers spot an operational, unmarked police car from a distance.

Then there are those who are more focused on the little electronic gadget they furtively conceal in their lap or down by the floor-mounted gear shift. No longer do these drivers hold their phones up to their ears or balance the gadget on the steering wheel while texting.

The effectiveness of new legislation concerning cellphone use while driving has met with some lively debate.

There are recent studies out of the United States reporting how collisions attributed to cellphone use have increased. It’s suggested drivers are still using their phones but being more covert, which distracts them further — the proof of which I witnessed last week.

I was on the way to a call, and even though my emergency lights and siren were quiet I still needed to get to my destination without delay. That meant I did not have time to stop the car travelling beside me. Instead of ‘where’s a cop when you need one?’ it was ‘where’s a cop got the time to pull someone over when she really needs to?’

I did another check of the car next to me and confirmed my first observation — the driver had a BlackBerry up to her ear with one hand while the other balanced an iPhone at the two o’clock position.

The driver was using the thumb on that hand to scroll through text on the iPhone screen and she kept lowering the device to check her progress on both the road and her dash-mounted GPS unit, all presumably while having a conversation with whomever was on the phone.

As the car pulled ahead I blipped my lights and siren. This is usually enough to spark a reaction and it drew the expected response of flashing brake lights from everybody but the driver I was concerned about. She continued on, blissfully unaware, apparently deafened to a 115-decibel siren by the distractions in her car.

Next, I pulled alongside her with my side windows down, exposing the metal window grates and police lights mounted on the K9 compartment that takes up the middle portion of my police vehicle.

I was sure this action, accompanied by another siren blast, would draw her attention and get her to put her phones away. But alas, no.

At the next light, I pulled my vehicle up tight beside hers.

This got a reaction as she pulled the phone away from her ear and shot me a nasty look for crowding her.

Her disdain was short lived, however, when I blipped my siren again. She jerked in her seat and hid her phones down low like a little kid getting caught raiding the cookie jar.

I motioned for her to roll her window down and when she did I told her to put the phones away.

She scrambled to put the gadgets in her purse and by the time the light turned green there was nary an electronic device in sight and I sped off to my 911 call.

Would the driver know she had been given a break? I hope so.

Would she refrain from using her phones while driving again? Probably not. Hey, I’m a realist, and the new cellphone laws do not deter a certain portion of users. My only hope is that the driver got to her own destination without causing a collision.

Vancouver police constable Sandra Glendinning blogs at behindtheblueline.ca. Her opinions aren’t necessarily those of the city’s police department or board.

Photograph by: Photos.com, working.com