Created on Friday, 04 March 2011
If you drive a vehicle in Ontario, you are no doubt aware of the dangers of distracted driving. You may even be part of the problem.
The Insurance Bureau of Canada has reported that driver distraction is a factor in eight out of 10 car crashes in North America each year. It also reports that drivers talking on cell phones perform as poorly under stress as drunk drivers.
The Ontario law that forbids the use of a cell phone (or similar device) while driving (Bill 118), unless linked to a "hands-free" unit, was introduced in October, 2009. Since then, more than 46,000 tickets have been handed out to drivers who were talking or texting while driving.
Related: Do you really think you can text and drive?
A week-long blitz in Toronto in February saw police issue more than 2,500 tickets to drivers for using hand-held devices while at the wheel. A similar three-day blitz by York Regional Police saw 211 drivers charged.
Clearly, Ontario drivers are not taking Bill 118 seriously. It's a major problem that needs to be addressed if we want to save lives and minimize the risk of road accidents.
Some psychologists suggest that in an increasingly wired world, people can't "turn off" any more and have an almost obsessive compulsion to stay connected all the time, even while driving.
This kind of explanation does little to assuage the grief and anguish of those who have lost loved ones because of the recklessness of drivers who needed to "stay connected" while behind the wheel.
These modern business and social tools are often referred to as CrackBerrys, a reference to crack cocaine. The term became so widespread that in November 2006, Webster's Dictionary declared "crackberry" to be the New Word of the Year.
Driving habits and attitudes can change over time. When seat belts were widely introduced in the 1970s, this safety feature met with considerable resistance and criticism from many drivers, who considered them a nuisance.
By the time seat-belt usage became mandatory here in 1976, public perceptions had started to change. Drivers learned to accept this proven safety feature and, within a few years, hardly anybody objected to using them.
Today, most of us buckle up by habit; it's the most cost-effective measure in reducing the chances of injury or death in a vehicle collision. In fact, there is a social stigma attached to not wearing seat belts.
Drinking and driving was once socially acceptable in our culture, and impaired driving laws were rarely enforced. Massive education efforts on the part of automakers, government agencies, advocacy groups (MADD), police (RIDE), plus strong judicial enforcement, were successful in changing public attitudes and behaviours. Today, far fewer people drink and drive, which has significantly reduced alcohol-related road accidents.
To help raise awareness of driving distractions, Young Drivers of Canada and State Farm Insurance have partnered to create an online national driving test. This test encourages safe and smart driving practices and has a special focus on distracted driving. This is a step in the right direction.
Automakers have also taken important steps in making their vehicles safer to drive. Air bags, anti-lock braking systems, electronic stability control (detects and prevents car skids), adaptive cruise control and active head restraints are some of the safety features introduced in recent decades.
From a selling perspective, advanced safety features are great. Car buyers feel more protected in their vehicles and their chances of being seriously injured in a crash are lessened.
But even the most advanced car safety features are compromised when drivers focus their attention on holding and talking on a cell phone or sending a text message while they are behind the wheel.
If education can convince drivers to buckle up and not drive while impaired, it can also convince them to put down their cell phones and pay attention.