Put down the phone

The Southern Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - Rus­sell Wanger­sky

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.”

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