Put down the phone
For provincial politicians in the Atlantic provinces, I’d suggest a walk to work. A nice, leisurely, eyes-open walk for at least a kilometre or so.
I mean, you can get a small idea by driving – recently, a Honda Civic with a young man driving went by me on the highway at a huge rate of speed, the driver’s cellphone held on the steering wheel with the thumbs of both hands, and I thought, there goes another one - but if you want to see the real numbers, you have to be walking as cars stream by.
If you are walking, you’ll see it in a hurry.
Some days, cars will pass you with as many as one out of every three drivers with a cellphone in their hands or up against their faces. Other times, it’s less, but the ratio of those who are on the phone is stag- gering.
It’s staggering despite the toll distracted driving is taking on our roads, and staggering despite the fact that fines are getting larger and larger.
This month, Newfoundland and Labrador’s legislature is preparing to hike the tickets substantially: a first offence would now be a range of $300 to $500, a second offence a $500 to $750 fine, and for third or subsequent offences, $750 to $1,000, making them among the highest distracted driving fines in the country.
In Nova Scotia, fines rose in 2015 to $233.95 for a first offence, while a third offence went up to $578.95. New Brunswick? $172.50. Prince Edward Island? Among the highest in the country, with a minimum fine of $500 and a maximum of $1,200, plus five demerit points, which will certainly get the attention of your insurance company even if it doesn’t garner any notice from you.
The idea, of course, is deterrence. Problem is, an awful lot of people aren’t being deterred in the least.
In Newfoundland and Labrador, the police issued 1,352 tickets to people using cellphones last year. Recent annual conviction numbers in P. E. I.? Around 215. Nova Scotia and New Brunswick came in at 4,841 and 1,389, respectively, in 2015.
Fines don’t just have to go up, the law has to be broadly and thoroughly applied, as well. If you pick up your phone, you should do it in the knowledge that there’s a very real chance you’ll be paying a fine this month, and higher insurance for years.
Given the number of people you see on the phone or texting every day, that number is ludicrously small. In St. John’s, a newspaper photographer sitting at a busy intersection took photographs of scores of cellphone- using drivers, including a man driving a school bus. Yet we haven’t seemed to clue in yet to just how dangerous the distractions are in using a cellphone while driving.
Day after day, I watch the drivers stream by when I walk, see the phones in their hands, and try to imagine just how important a circumstance they must be dealing with. Are they driving to the control tower, talking down an inexperienced pilot trying to land at the airport? Are they heart surgeons, telling emergency room staff where to place their hands to keep a gunshot victim from bleeding to death until the surgeon can reach an operating room and repair the damage?
No. They are making plans or yelling at children or complaining about traffic.
And what a sad, sorry epitaph that could be.
Something like: “Here lies Tony Ball - he couldn’t wait to make that call.”