Published on Friday, 09 December 2011
During the holiday season, many motorists are in a hurry to finish work and get to their intended destinations — more so than usual.
But that urgency often leads to careless driving and ignoring the rules of the road. Among the worst driving offences that motorists commit at this — or any — time of year is distracted driving.
Distracted driving is a serious offence that encompasses many activities, including talking on cell phones, playing with electronic gadgets, applying makeup, reading newspapers, watching videos, texting and eating.
Every day, motorists openly flaunt the distracted driving law, chatting away on smart phones, texting messages and fiddling with their iPods when they should be concentrating on driving. The prevailing attitude appears to be, “Everyone’s doing it, so where’s the harm?”
The harm is that distracted drivers put their own lives — plus the lives of other passengers, drivers and pedestrians — at risk. A moment of distraction can lead to a lifetime of pain, suffering and anguish.
Although it’s a serious issue among law-enforcement agencies, private companies and governments, not enough motorists and passengers take distracted driving seriously.
Pedestrians and cyclists, too, have to pay greater attention to their surroundings, and less time talking and texting. Distracted walking and cycling can sometimes be almost as dangerous as distracted driving.
According to the Ontario Provincial Police, distracted driving is the direct cause of between 30 and 50 per cent of collisions in Ontario. That figure is probably higher due to under-reporting.
Two years ago, the Ontario Medical Association released a report that linked cell phone use while driving with changes in driver behaviour. These changes include slower brake time reaction, a change in driving speed, slower response times when traffic lights change and reduced visual monitoring of mirrors and instruments.
The stigma attached to certain unlawful driving practices has become ingrained in our culture. For instance, operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated, not wearing seatbelts and street racing have become legally, morally and socially unacceptable.
But that stigma has not yet extended to the practice of distracted driving. Public attitudes about motorists who operate hand-held devices while driving, without the aid of a hands-free device, are indifferent.
In 2009, the Ontario government introduced a law banning hand-held devices while driving. If you are caught using a cell phone or a device capable of texting while driving, you could be fined $155. In 2010, the OPP laid 8,522 charges for this offence.
Other forms of distracted driving can result in a charge of Careless Driving, with fines ranging from $400 to $2,000, a possible licence suspension of up to two years and/or a jail term.
Last May, the Toronto Automobile Dealers Association partnered with the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police (OACP) in a province-wide R.I.D.E. Safe! campaign by targeting motorists using handheld devices while driving. (To download the 2011 Drive Safe! Booklet, visit the OACP‘s website at www.oacp.ca.)
Ron Bain, the Executive Director of the OACP, said in a statement: “Keeping Ontario roadways safe is a shared responsibility. Police need the continued support of our citizens to make sure every driver gets home safe.”
Indeed, police forces, automobile associations, private companies and governments are trying to put the brakes on distracted driving. At the end of the day, it’s everyone’s responsibility to stop this deadly practice.
Admittedly, we live in a 24/7/365 wired world, where “always-on” connectivity has become the norm. But motorists must understand that they are in control of a powerful vehicle that weighs two tons (on average) and it’s too dangerous to guide it without paying full attention+.
Although it’s been said before, it bears repeating: Driving a vehicle is a privilege, not a right. Please pay attention and drive responsibly.