Dis­tracted driv­ers now as dan­ger­ous as driv­ing drunk

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - EDITORIAL -

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.

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