Distracted drivers now as dangerous as driving drunk
The statistics tell a disturbing part of the story, but not all of it. In five years, convictions on P.E.I. for distracted driving – such as talking on a cellphone or texting - have skyrocketed some 300 per cent. In 2010, total convictions were 80. By 2014, they had climbed to 308. It’s no surprise that fines for distracted driving have doubled in recent amendments to P.E.I.’s Highway Traffic Act.
As Transportation Minister Paula Biggar said this week, distracted driving is just as serious as impaired driving and she’s right. Using a phone while driving is potentially deadly and becoming more and more common.
Something drastic has to be done. The increased fines and penalties are a good start, but moving into the education field and greater police enforcement are absolutely necessary as well.
The amended Highway Safety Act increases the fine for operating a vehicle while using a handheld communication device from between $250-500 to between $500-$1200. There is also an increase in demerit points. Violators will now receive five demerit points, up from three.
Jail time is the obvious next step. Moving distracted driving infractions under the Criminal Code is necessary if those infractions are being compared to drunk driving and are considered as dangerous. Why not?
Most people just can’t resist the overwhelming urge to answer a beep or a ring. Most can’t wait to pull over and those one or two seconds of distraction — fumbling to push a button or read a screen — are all that’s necessary to turn a routine drive into a nightmare.
It’s certainly not just a P.E.I. issue but throughout Canada and south across the border. In the U.S., fatal crashes for distracted driving account for more than 11 per cent of all highway traffic deaths. Seventeen per cent of all accidents with injuries or heavy damage are caused by distracted driving.
The numbers are especially disturbing when it comes to teenage drivers. Distracted driving is the most frequent cause of vehicle crashes involving teenage drivers, particularly when other teens are on board. In 60 percent of crashes nationwide, teen drivers were either chatting or talking or texting on a cellphone seconds before collisions occurred.
In all jurisdictions, the use of cellular phones results in far more accidents than is being recorded or disclosed.
Distracted driving rates among teen drivers are reflected in amendments to P.E.I.’s regulations. Changes to the graduated driver licensing regulations will mean any new drivers in this program will have their license suspended if convicted of operating a handheld communication device while driving. There will be a 30-day suspension for a first offence, and 90 days for any subsequent offence.
In a recent two-vehicle crash near Peakes, a mother and young daughter narrowed avoided serious injury after another vehicle pulled out in front of them. The male driver was on the cellphone and readily admitted he was the cause of the accident.
The woman driver says it’s ironic the incident happened just after fines for distracted driving were increased. RCMP issued the male driver a ticket for distracted driving.
While some drivers admit their guilt, most don’t or try to avoid confessing to their crime and that’s why it’s not showing up in police statistics, distorting the actual figures which are likely even more alarming. Most people are not going to admit to a traffic violation.
Police find it difficult to detect distracted driving. Many vehicles have tinted windows and police just can’t see into the front seat. Cellular phones not held right up to one’s ear are hard to see. Texting can be done with a phone on your knee.
The mother in the Peakes crash says she’s discouraged that people are still using hand held cellphones while driving. She went public with her story and that is a very good thing. She feels “motivated, driven and all fired up to get this message out there.” Maybe someone hearing her message will stop using distracting devices while driving. The male driver was lucky this time. It could have been much worse.
Famed psychologist Sigmund Freud postulated there are no such things as accidents — somebody makes a conscious, wrong decision that results in a mishap. Crashes caused by distracted driving are a prime example.