It was one year ago today, a new law came into effect banning talking on hand-held electronic devices or texting while driving.
Janette Rodewald, Data Analyst with RCMP Traffic Services says cracking down on drivers that talk or text while driving has been a priority for police. "Sometimes it's hard when you're in a marked police cruiser, obviously when you're coming up to a person, they tend to kind of put the cell phone down right away." Rodewald says 297 people have been charged provincewide under this new legislation and eleven of those were in the Steinbach Detachment area.

Furthermore, she says independent observational studies were conducted this spring. "This would just be a person such as myself or a volunteer who sits out in a completely unmarked vehicle just with a set of binoculars watching people." According to the study, the average rural Manitoba cell phone compliance rate is 98.4 per cent. That means 1.6% of drivers are talking or texting while driving and therefore are not obeying the law. In the Steinbach area the compliance rate drops to 97.2%. Rodewald says "really it's overall pretty good I would think. But that's still, you still have that two to three per cent who just aren't respecting that law." Other communities that were surveyed show a compliance rate of 98.4% in Grunthal, 98.6% in Ste.Anne and 98.8% in Beausejour. The lowest compliance rate was 93.8% and the highest was 100%.

Rodewald says unfortunately not everyone is taking this new law serious. "We see a lot crashes where people are using their cell phones, you know just not paying attention and then accidentally rear end someone or we've had other fatalities where we suspect the person using their cell phone."

As for what age group tends to disobey this law most, "we tend to think it might be young people," says Rodewald. "But it actually seems to be people of all ages. It doesn't really seem to matter, male or female, I believe the female use was higher than the male use when we took a look at male and female but not by much."

Rodewald adds "we find that the compliance rates are lower when it's in bigger centres as opposed to out on the highway. Out on the highway people don't seem to be using the phone as much. They're more using the Bluetooth devices to speak which is great or they're not speaking at all." She says unfortunately once they enter towns or cities and start slowing down, "they think it's okay to just pick up the phone and talk but really that's almost where it becomes more dangerous because there's so many more obstacles, there's cyclists and pedestrians and things you have to look out for."

Rodewald says she reviews crashes on a regular basis. "And one of the common things I see all the time is people just not paying attention to the roadway. And whether it be distracted by passengers in the vehicle, distracted by the radio or distracted by their cell phone, it just is so important to pay attention to what they're doing and just put that cell phone away. The phone call can wait or pull over to a safe spot and make that call."

When asked whether or not the message is getting through to motorists, Rodewald says "I'm not sure it is. I think to a good chunk of the public it has. I think people have gone out and bought their Bluetooth and that part of the population is really taking it seriously but I do think there is a small per cent who just aren't getting it."

The fine for not complying and using your cell phone while driving is $199.80. It will also cost you points on your MPI points scale.