Obliv­i­ous be­hind the wheel

The Compass - - Editorial - Rus­sell Wanger­sky Rus­sell Wanger­sky is TC Me­dia’s At­lantic re­gional columnist. He can be reached at rus­sell.wanger­sky@tc.tc — Twit­ter: @ Wanger­sky

Ex­mouth Street is a lit­tle feeder street, a handy res­i­den­tial short­cut from one main road to another where drivers al­ways seem to go faster than they should, not hav­ing made the tran­si­tion yet from ar­te­rial to mere cap­il­lary. You don’t re­ally need to know much more about it than that.

It’s a street in a city neigh­bour­hood where one house in­ex­pli­ca­bly boasts two small yet noble weath­ered con­crete lions on its front wall, where the own­ers of another oth­er­wise non-de­script two-storey house some­times have a hefty live pig, black and white, on a leash in its front yard, where two or three houses boil out teams of back­pack-laden kids as loud as star­lings at al­most the ex­act same time ev­ery week­day morn­ing.

It’s the kind of street where even the chang­ing de­tri­tus of life tells a new small story ev­ery few days or so: a set of ear bud head­phones, fallen from some pocket, slowly be­ing re­duced day-by-day to bro­ken plas­tic and wire by be­ing run over; an overnight park­ing ticket, an­grily torn from un­der a wiper and re­duc­ing it­self to pulp in the gut­ter; once, a smashed com­puter hard-drive, leak­ing its se­crets.

On Tues­day, there was an al­lu­vial fan of dozens of Q-Tips run­ning down­hill with the melt­wa­ter, the cot­ton tips black with street dirt. It wasn’t clear if it was the re­sult of a garbage day ex­plo­sion or a more sin­is­ter beau­ti­cian’s ac­ci­dent — “When Pedi­cures Go Rogue.”

Also on Tues­day, I ex­pe­ri­enced the per­fect walker’s tri­fecta: any­one who has sur­vived ur­ban or even ru­ral road walk­ing knows that walk­ing for health is al­ways a fine bal­ance be­tween fit­ness and ran­dom au­to­mo­tive an­ni­hi­la­tion.

The city, ap­par­ently, couldn’t be both­ered to brush the now-melt­ing snow back far enough to open up the road for twoway traf­fic. Com­ing to­wards me in a small black car was a driver, his face down to­wards his lap, look­ing at his phone, who couldn’t be both­ered to drive safely. I jumped out of the way, only to land with both feet in a pile of dog crap that some dog owner couldn’t be both­ered to stoop and scoop.

Of all those dis­plays of un­car­ing hu­man­ity, there’s only one that kills.

Driv­ing drunk — drunk on tech­nol­ogy, that is.

Last month, fed­eral Trans­port Min­is­ter Marc Garneau called for the prov­inces to agree on a uni­form and tough stan­dard to in­crease penal­ties on dis­tracted drivers. It’s not a mo­ment too soon. In the At­lantic re­gion, the penal­ties range from $100 to $1,200. It’s not enough, given the preva­lence of cell­phone-us­ing and tex­ting drivers, and the sheer vol­ume of ac­ci­dents they cause. The fines have to be mas­sive enough to garner at­ten­tion. It would be an ex­cel­lent thing for all of the prov­inces to jump on board with.

Techno- drunk- driv­ing should be like other forms of im­paired driv­ing: if you’re in an ac­ci­dent while you are on the phone or tex­ting, you should be im­me­di­ately the one at fault. When a phone is in­volved, fines and penal­ties should im­me­di­ately dou­ble. Your in­sur­ance com­pany should be in­formed that your driv­ing be­hav­iour con­sti­tutes a risk, and your in­sur­ance costs should rise be­cause of that — be­cause you are a risk to ev­ery­one else.

I was walk­ing along, look­ing at triv­ial things, fully aware of my sur­round­ings, of where I was and what I was do­ing.

The driv­ing who came close to hit­ting me? I imag­ine he, like most of us and the reg­u­lar things we find on our cell­phones day by day, was look­ing at triv­ial things, too: plans for later, gro­ceries that needed buy­ing, a video of a danc­ing horse.

But he was at the wheel of a ton of ve­hi­cle, mov­ing fast, with­out even the ben­e­fit of re­ac­tion time.

Maybe to­mor­row, I’ll be the run-over de­tri­tus.

I hope not. But, given how lit­tle we seem to be will­ing to bother with other peo­ple’s safety, I wouldn’t be sur­prised.

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