Distracted driving issue at full attention
Wednesday, Feb 19, 2014 03:00 pm
You’re sitting at a red light. The light finally turns green, but the car in front of you doesn’t move. You wait patiently for about five seconds, but the jerk continues to sit idle. You lay on the horn, and the startled Neanderthal in front of you lifts his head and lurches his car forward.
If you have a driver’s license, chances are you’ve had the unpleasant experience of being stuck behind a narcissistic, oblivious cellphone texter who can’t possibly wait until he’s arrived safely at his destination to make that all-important text.
Aside from making one’s blood boil, one could almost swear that cellphone usage while driving has actually proliferated since the distracted driving law came into effect in 2011. That could be because the current law isn’t much of a deterrent. A text addict isn’t likely to stop on account of a $172 fine. The fine could be doubled and it would hardly have an impact.
Distracted driving is a serious problem; it’s blamed for 20 to 30 per cent of all vehicle collisions. It’s not just cellphones either. People use their cars as their powder room and apply makeup or shave while zooming down the road. They use it as their home office, making notes on a piece of paper that lies in the passenger’s seat. They use it as their kennel, and let Sparky sit on their lap.
Unfortunately, distracted driving doesn’t come with the societal stigma that drinking and driving carries. Those of us who are old enough to remember can recall the days when drinking and driving was quietly accepted by society. In fact, it was practically a rite of passage. If you grew up in the ’60s and ’70s, you’ll recall that people didn’t think twice about getting blasted and then driving themselves (and their friends) home. Society has come a long way in the last 40-plus years. Today, the punishment is steep, complete with a criminal record. Drunk driving, of course, still happens, but it is not tolerated by society.
Distracted driving can have the same fatal consequences that drinking and driving can have, so why should the punishment drastically differ? It is today what drinking and driving was in the ’60s and ’70s – those who do it think nothing of it and genuinely don’t believe it is dangerous.
If distracted driving is to become intolerable to society, then the law must reflect the seriousness of the behaviour. Manitoba is on the right track with its two demerit point deduction for anyone caught driving while distracted. Manitoba’s law isn’t severe enough, but impacting someone’s driving record is certainly a step in the right direction.
Alberta has a chance to show real leadership on distracted driving and implement a law that reflects the seriousness of the behaviour. After all, distracted driving can have deadly consequences, and a $172 fine does not move the meter on what should be an intolerable offence.