Tex­ting driv­ers are im­paired driv­ers

Pun­ish­ment should re­flect the se­ri­ous­ness of the crime

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - OPINION - Rus­sell Wanger­sky Rus­sell Wanger­sky is TC Media's At­lantic re­gional colum­nist. He can be reached at rus­sell.wanger­skyWanger­sky@tc.tc Twit­ter @

All the law­mak­ers re­ally need to do is add just a hand­ful of words.

But first: a cou­ple of weeks ago, a young woman in Win­nipeg was sen­tenced for a crash she caused in 2010. Two peo­ple in another ve­hi­cle were killed, three oth­ers were in­jured (two se­ri­ously).

The of­fender was 17 when she ran a red light on Win­nipeg's Bishop Grandin Boule­vard.

As the judge de­scribed it, the teen's "abil­ity to drive was im­paired by al­co­hol but she did not re­al­ize it at the time; she was tex­ting on her Black­Berry; she was speed­ing, specif­i­cally trav­el­ling 96 kilo­me­tres an hour when the speed limit was 80 km/h; her ve­hi­cle was on cruise con­trol; and there was no ev­i­dence of her brak­ing or swerv­ing to avoid the col­li­sion."

It's another car crash where tex­ting has ap­peared promi­nently as part of the cause. Re­searchers have al­ready pointed out that tex­ting driv­ers are 23 times more likely to be in­volved in an ac­ci­dent that than driv­ers who aren't dis­tracted by their phones.

It's some­thing you see ev­ery day, and it's ob­vi­ous, es­pe­cially at traf­fic lights, when traf­fic is held up by the in­evitable texter un­aware that the light has changed, his or her driv­ing abil­i­ties clearly im­paired by the phones.

On Satur­day, I watched a driver star­ing down at his phone, com­pletely un­aware that his car, which was at a red light, was ac­tu­ally still mov­ing, drift­ing for­ward­sand off to the right into an ad­ja­cent lane, al­most strik­ing another ve­hi­cle.

Now, there are dis­tracted driv­ing laws and other rules against tex­ting while driv­ing. There are laws about cell­phone use as well.

But I think it's time to up the ante, be­cause the mes­sage sim­ply isn't get­ting across.

Right now, the im­paired driv­ing sec­tion of Canada's Crim­i­nal Code reads like this: "253. (1) Ev­ery one com­mits an of­fence who op­er­ates a mo­tor ve­hi­cle or ves­sel or op­er­ates or as­sists in the op­er­a­tion of an air­craft or of rail­way equip­ment or has the care or con­trol of a mo­tor ve­hi­cle, ves­sel, air­craft or rail­way equip­ment, whether it is in mo­tion or not, (a) while the per­son's abil­ity to op­er­ate the ve­hi­cle, ves­sel, air­craft or rail­way equip­ment is im­paired by al­co­hol or a drug; or (b) hav­ing con­sumed al­co­hol in such a quan­tity that the con­cen­tra­tion in the per­son's blood ex­ceeds 80 mil­ligrams of al­co­hol in 100 millil­itres of blood. (2) For greater cer­tainty, the ref­er­ence to im­pair­ment by al­co­hol or a drug in para­graph (1)(a) in­cludes im­pair­ment by a com­bi­na­tion of al­co­hol and a drug."

Why not sim­ply take the sec­tion that says "while the per­son 's abil­ity to op­er­ate the ves­sel ... is im­paired by al­co­hol or a drug," and add four words, so it says "al­co­hol, drug or an elec­tronic de­vice"? I've sug­gested be­fore that driv­ers who are in­volved in ac­ci­dents while tex­ting should pay ad­di­tional dam­ages.

The truth is, they shouldn't be driv­ing at all.

Let's bring the penal­ties for driv­ers im­paired by their cell­phones into line with those im­posed on all other im­paired driv­ers, so that the tex­ting driv­ers re­al­ize the dan­gers of their be­hav­iour.

Tex­ting-im­paired driver would lose their li­cence for a pe­riod of time; their auto in­sur­ance costs would rise dra­mat­i­cally (and why shouldn't they?) and they'd fi­nally re­ceive the kind of com­mu­nity dis­dain that cit­i­zens de­serve when they put their own petty needs ahead of the com­mon good.

Think of ev­ery sin­gle text you have ever re­ceived in your en­tire life. Is there even one that is so im­por­tant that it is worth your life, and the lives of oth­ers, to re­ceive it im­me­di­ately? Of course not. It's time for the pun­ish­ment to fit the crime. Im­paired driv­ers are im­paired driv­ers, whether the im­pair­ment is al­co­hol or any other ad­dic­tion.

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