Vargas: Public transportation a new tool in nabbing distracted drivers

By Joe Vargas

There is no doubt most of you have experienced the same thing I have over and over again: I’m driving down the road and I notice someone weaving back and forth in their lane. My first thought usually is, “drunk driver.” I pull up alongside only to see someone on their cell phone.

I think to myself, “This guy is going to kill someone.” And it’s true people are dying from distracted driving. 

Distracted driving is major problem when it comes to highway safety. Enforcement efforts are hit and miss. The California Office of Traffic Safety in April reported that at least 12.8 percent of the state’s drivers were observed using a mobile device during the day, up from 9.2 percent in 2015.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, each day in the United States more than eight people are killed and nearly 1,200 are injured in crashes that are reported to involve a distracted driver. I’m certain the numbers are much higher.

To address the issue, the York Regional Police in Canada have started using a unique strategy to identify and cite drivers who are using their cell phones while driving.

They are riding the bus.

In a story reported in the National Post, the York Regional Police are riding city buses to spot drivers who are texting or talking on their cell phones. The video has received more than a million views and thousands of comments.

From the higher vantage point, an officer can identify drivers who are using their cell phones while driving.  A chase car then pulls over the offending driver. Passengers on the bus even help point out offending drivers.

The comments range from “It’s not fair,”  to “Why aren’t they targeting murderers and robbers?”

Apparently, there are quite a few people who don’t like the idea of the police being creative and trying to make the roads safer. There also are accusations of enforcement efforts being a cash cow for the police department.

Having been a traffic bureau commander for a stint during my career, I can say with all honesty I didn’t care how much cash was coming in. From a department budget standpoint, the money generated was minimal and it went to the city general fund, not to the police department.

I can tell you the officer on the street could not care less about revenue generation.

There also were plenty of comments commending the department for being proactive, including some from people who had been the victims of distracted driving accidents.

Let’s face it: Distracted driving is a problem and seems to be getting worse. Any creative efforts agencies can come up with to make our roads safer, in my opinion, is better for all of us.