Dis­tracted driv­ing stats go­ing back­ward


The Hamilton Spectator - - OPINION - Howard El­liott

An­other long week­end. An­other dra­matic gas price hike, this time blamed on re­fin­ery shut­downs caused by hur­ri­cane Har­vey (but when was the last time prices didn’t spike be­fore a long week­end?). And an­other OPP safety blitz aimed at re­duc­ing dis­tracted driv­ing.

And, un­for­tu­nately for you, an­other edi­to­rial ask­ing yet again: When are we go­ing to start get­ting the mes­sage on dis­tracted driv­ing?

Ear­lier this week, On­tario Pro­vin­cial Po­lice re­leased sta­tis­tics show­ing dis­tracted driv­ing causes more crashes than speed­ing and im­paired-re­lated col­li­sions com­bined. That has been the case ev­ery year since 2009, ex­cept for 2012, which was an anom­aly.

So far this year, 47 peo­ple have died due to inat­ten­tive driv­ers. That’s up from 39 who died in the same pe­riod last year. There have been a shock­ing 6,360 dis­tracted-driv­ing col­li­sions on OPP-pa­trolled roads since the be­gin­ning of the year, com­pared to 4,700 caused by speed­ing and 1,158 caused by drug or al­co­hol im­pair­ment.

And col­lec­tively, we still aren’t get­ting the mes­sage. What will it take?

Just about a year ago, laws were tough­ened. The min­i­mum fine for driv­ers caught us­ing elec­tronic de­vices went from $280 to $490, and guilty mo­torists were hit with three de­merit points on their li­cences. Three-time losers now have their li­cences sus­pended.

And still, the trend con­tin­ues — more col­li­sions, deaths, in­jury and prop­erty dam­age. Ap­par­ently, the tougher new laws don’t go far enough. Some ar­gue dis­tracted driv­ing should be treated like im­paired driv­ing. That could mean sus­pen­sion of driv­ing priv­i­leges for a year, a fine of not less than $1,000, po­ten­tial ve­hi­cle im­pound­ment and par­tic­i­pa­tion in coun­selling at the driver’s own cost.

Oth­ers don’t sup­port go­ing that far. They point out that we may still be in learn­ing-curve territory. Think back — if you’re old enough — to the days when seat­belts be­came manda­tory. There was of pe­riod of sev­eral years be­fore real so­ci­etal change be­gan. We now have nearly full com­pli­ance. And while we still have a se­ri­ous prob­lem with im­paired driv­ing, it’s fair to say that stiffer penal­ties and public ed­u­ca­tion have and con­tinue to have an im­pact.

We’re on the side that says the gov­ern­ment should not hes­i­tate to toughen penal­ties again. Maybe that will kick-start com­mon sense.

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