Montreal Times - - Front Page - By: Bon­nie Wurst / mtl­times.ca

Per­haps it is time for those who text while driv­ing (or hold cell­phones for a call) to re­ceive the same penal­ties as driv­ing un­der the in­flu­ence of al­co­hol. It has be­come clear that sim­ply re­ceiv­ing a fine and de­merit points is not enough.

So­ci­ety's ob­ses­sion with their 'smart' phones is chang­ing the way we live and think - and not nec­es­sar­ily in a re­spon­si­ble way. In fact, ad­dic­tion to the vir­tual world and it's 'need to know ev­ery­thing now and faster' is killing peo­ple, lit­er­ally. Tex­ting while driv­ing, or for that mat­ter even pedes­tri­ans cross­ing a road, has be­come a very se­ri­ous prob­lem.

No mat­ter how of­ten they are told, logic sim­ply dis­ap­pears for some peo­ple when their cell­phones go 'ding'. It is a com­plete il­lu­sion to think one is fully aware of their sur­round­ings when look­ing at their phones, ei­ther be­hind the wheel of a 3000 pound-plus ve­hi­cle or with head bent while cross­ing a busy in­ter­sec­tion. It takes mere sec­onds for a se­ri­ous ac­ci­dent to hap­pen.

It is ir­re­spon­si­ble and soon might be crim­i­nal - with Bill C-373 re­cently in­tro­duced in the House of Com­mons by Man­i­toba MP Doug Ey­olf­son. In an in­ter­view with CTV News, he said 'dis­tracted driv­ing is a big prob­lem na­tion­wide that has come up rel­a­tively quickly', and he 'wants gov­ern­ments across the coun­try to make the en­force­ment of dis­tracted driv­ing more con­sis­tent be­tween all the prov­inces and ter­ri­to­ries'. The bill, 'A Fed­eral Frame­work on Dis­tracted Driv­ing Act', was in­tro­duced on Oc­to­ber 18th and passed a vote on Oc­to­ber 25th. The next step will be up to the Se­nate.

As it now stands, all prov­inces and ter­ri­to­ries (ex­cept Nu­navut) pe­nal­ize dis­tracted driv­ers from three to five de­merit points and fines for dis­tracted driv­ing across Canada range from a min­i­mum of $80 in Que­bec, to a max­i­mum of $1,200 in Prince Ed­ward Is­land.

"Right now, a per­son is more likely to be a vic­tim of dis­tracted driv­ing than a vic­tim of im­paired driv­ing," he was quoted as say­ing.

'Leave the Phone Alone', an aware­ness cam­paign en­cour­ag­ing Cana­di­ans to 'make a pub­lic pledge to avoid dis­trac­tions while driv­ing', states on their web­site:

- Driv­ers who use hand-held de­vices are FOUR times more likely to get into crashes se­ri­ous enough to cause in­jury.

- Even when driv­ers use a hands-free phone, they are less aware of the traf­fic around them. They tend to re­act more slowly to a crit­i­cal event or worse - they may not de­tect the danger at all.

- Ac­ci­dents can hap­pen in the blink of an eye. A study found that in 80% of col­li­sions, the driver had looked away from the road 3 sec­onds prior to the crash.

As a driver with 40 years of ex­pe­ri­ence, I am proud to say I am not guilty of tex­ting while driv­ing - I re­al­ized how dan­ger­ous it was from the start. It was sim­ple logic. I do talk on the phone us­ing hands-free tech­nol­ogy but of­ten try to pull over if pos­si­ble, as I find the act of fo­cus­ing on a con­ver­sa­tion takes away from fo­cus­ing on the road. As a pedes­trian, I have been guilty of tex­ting while walk­ing - but that ended the first time I walked face first into a pole. It's not an in­con­ve­nience when my life or that of others is at stake.

Just re­cently I was al­most in a se­ri­ous car ac­ci­dent. A woman in her 40’s, not a young driver as we of­ten as­sume, was tex­ting while driv­ing and hit the back of another car. I was just be­hind her and my re­ac­tions, thank­fully, we’re good enough to avoid her and a po­ten­tial pile up be­hind me, of which my ma­neu­ver helped stop. For­tu­nately, the driv­ers and pas­sen­gers were okay, but both cars sus­tained se­ri­ous enough dam­age.

There does not seem to be a way to re­ally get the mes­sage through. Tex­ting on cell­phones while driv­ing, as well as while walk­ing and cycling for that mat­ter, can kill. Pe­riod.

So what will it take? A de­bil­i­tat­ing ac­ci­dent or fur­ther deaths to make peo­ple come to their senses? It is un­for­tu­nate sim­ple logic does not pre­vail. Per­haps the threat of los­ing your li­cense or jail time will.

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