11/19/2013 09:02 EST | Updated 01/25/2014 04:01 EST

Montreal police crack down on texting and driving

Although it’s been illegal since 2008 to text while driving, police say many Montrealers still refuse to put down their cell phones when they’re behind the wheel.

“We’ve handed out 783 tickets — just our downtown division,” said RenéBellemare, a lieutenant with the Montreal police force.

CBC reporter Leah Hendry got to ride along with Montreal traffic police, and it took only a few minutes to find one motorist clutching his cell phone in his hands as he steered the wheel with his knees.

Others texted or checked their email while they were stopped at a traffic light.

“If you are in the traffic lane and you are not legally parked, you are not allowed to have it in your hand. You can’t touch your screen,” Bellemare said.

It’s a habit police officers say is very dangerous.

“When they’re having a good conversation, their mind is not on the wheel anymore. They are somewhere else - and it can be very dangerous,” said SylvainLarose, an officer with the Montreal police traffic division.

“Driving at 50 km/h, just think — if you're distracted just two or three seconds — how much territory you've covered, particularly downtown,” said the division’s inspector André Durocher.

A violation costs drivers $120 and three demerit points.

But some say the province should come down even tougher on offenders.

“In some U.S. states, drivers lose their licence after 3 infractions,” said Bellemare, adding that educating drivers about the dangers of texting and driving is also necessary.