The Ontario provincial government plans to reintroduce a bill that would see fines for distracted driving increase from $280 to $1,000, along with three demerit points. I applaud the government for addressing this serious issue.
By now, the stats for distracted driving are all too common: according to the OPP, distracted driving accounts for more deaths on Ontario roads than drinking and driving and is “cited as a causal factor in 30 to 50 per cent of traffic collisions in Ontario, but is probably much higher due to under-reporting.”
In Ontario alone, more than 235,000 distracted-driving charges have been laid in the past three years, and a recent study reported that one third of all young drivers (grades 10 to 12) admitted to texting while driving at least once in the past year.
For years, the Trillium Automobile Dealers Association has advocated against distracted driving and provided consistent messaging on this theme (visit tada.ca). Police forces, transportation stakeholders and consumer groups have also advocated the dangers and perils of distracted driving for some time, and those messages need to be continuously heard.
But for real change in driver behaviour to occur, everyone needs to play their part. For many decades, drinking and driving was considered acceptable social behaviour. Over the course of a single decade (as a result of tougher laws, stiffer fines and consistent messaging), this deadly practice became socially unacceptable.
The same intolerance that we now display toward drinking and driving needs to be extended to distracted driving. Family members, community leaders, coaches, employers, friends, neighbours, colleagues — everyone needs to step up their efforts and call out drivers who insist on doing things behind the wheel that compromise their ability to focus.
Aside from the fines, demerit points and possible jail sentences, distracted driving can result in other detrimental costs to society, including loss of life, serious injuries, health expenses, property damage and increased insurance rates.
Distracted driving could even lead to serious legal implications, beyond the aforementioned personal and societal costs.
If you are involved in an automobile collision, and police have reason to suspect that you were texting or talking on the phone without the aid of a hands-free device at the time of the collision, your mobile phone records could be subpoenaed.
If you are engaged in distractions behind the wheel (texting, fidgeting with the GSP, applying makeup), please stop immediately. Turn your mobile phone off, leave it in the trunk or give it to a passenger. Or, buy a wireless sun visor clip-on kit for hands-free operation. I’ve had one for years and it works great.
Technology exists today that makes driving much safer. Forward collision avoidance systems, reverse backup sensors and autonomous braking are some of the safety features that are currently available — why can’t more features be designed into cars to help reduce distracted driving?
Maybe the big telecoms and auto manufacturers could devise an app that allows users to activate a driving mode feature that suspends the device’s transmitting functions while you’re driving, similar to airplane mode. Such an app could even send an automatic response to anyone texting the driver when the driving mode feature is turned on.
In the 1970s, cars wouldn’t start if the seat belt wasn’t done up. Why not devise a simple sensor-transmitter in the driver’s seat that could disable the operation of a mobile phone when the car is in motion?
Some convertibles can’t operate the soft top while travelling more than 50 kilometres per hour.
A similar mechanism could be put in place to prevent cars from moving if a GPS system is being used without being in “audio mode.”
We all need to be part of the solution in reducing distracted driving. Are you doing your part?