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Editorials

Driven to Distraction

Saturday, June 28, 2014   by: David Root

In my last article, I discussed my top two pet driving peeves: people who ignore the speed limit, and people who ignore STOP signs and red lights.

In thinking on that, I would have to add a third peeve: distracted driving.

Now, I know there are people who, for reasons only they know, try and argue that this is not a problem, often by taking a reductio ad absurdum aproach — presenting examples so absurd as to not be valid at all. I have heard people claim that anything could be a distraction, including roadside signs and lawn ornaments.

But, distracted driving is a serious problem.

A few times a week there are reports of people being charged for driving under the influence, and outrage is expressed that this is still occurring… as well it should. But we should also be expressing our outrage at the amount of distracted driving that is taking place, especially people using their cell phones while driving.

FACTS: 

  • Distracted driving is cited as a causal factor in 30 to 50 per cent of traffic collisions on Ontario, but is probably much higher due to under-reporting.  (OPP website, 2014)
  • Drivers engaged in text messaging on a cellular phone are 23 times more likely to be involved in a crash or near crash event compared with non-distracted drivers. (Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, 2010)

Distracted driving is now considered to be more of problem than drinking and driving, since there are so many more drivers engage in this behaviour.

I am not surprised to see how many drivers talk on their phones or check/send text messages while driving. Sadly, these people either believe they can “multitask”, or that “it’s not a big deal.”

Fortunately, because they have not yet been involved in a collision, they can believe both of these claims. But as the cited by the OPP, up to 50% of collisions involve distracted driving.

As I said, it doesn’t surprise me when the average driver is using their phone. After all, they have anonymity on their side, so the likelihood of them getting caught is low.

But workers in company vehicles also display a great deal of (I can only call it) foolishness, blatantly driving down the road using their phones.

Really, you’re driving a moving billboard, with your company’s name and phone number plastered on the vehicle. Don’t you think that’s a bit more obvious to everyone?

I shake my head when I see how many “business” drivers — people driving clearly-marked company cars or trucks, including City vehicles, use their phones while driving.

And, by the way, it is not “okay” to check/send text messages while at a red light. The law says “No person shall drive a motor vehicle on a highway while holding or using a handheld device…”. (OHTA, 78.1 (1))

When you are stopped at a red light, you are still “driving.” 

If you need to answer your phone, make a call, or check/send text messages, then you must pull off the road and park.

Check out the law: http://www.e-laws.gov.on.ca/html/statutes/english/elaws_statutes_90h08_e.htm#BK134

…and the exemptions: http://www.e-laws.gov.on.ca/html/source/regs/english/2009/elaws_src_regs_r09366_e.htm

I guess because so many people think this is a non-issue that they aren’t worried.

A couple of summers ago, I was being followed down Pine Street by a van being driven by someone talking on his cell phone. We turned from Pine onto Wellington, and the driver took the curb lane and started to overtake me. 

I honked the horn and caught his attention and told him he needed to hang up and drive.

His reply was, “Hey, I’m working here,” and he sped past me.

Since the company name and phone number was emblazoned on the van, I was able to call his office and express my concern about their employee driving and using his phone. They were quite concerned.

This past Saturday I was waiting to turn from Black onto Trunk, when a work truck went past on Trunk. The driver was clearly holding a phone to her left ear.

A bit later, having breakfast at the Husky, I saw the same truck and driver at the gas pumps. The driver again had the phone to her ear while pumping gas.

While this was happening she took a second phone from her vest pocket, and holding the first phone between her shoulder and ear, she sent a text message on the second phone.

After she paid she got in the truck and, as she was driving away, was again checking text messages.

Once again, the company name was clearly marked on the truck, and I sent an email to their office expressing my concern that this employee perhaps needed to be reminded that using a phone while driving is illegal, and doing so while pumping gas is not advised.

(Yes, the risk of explosion while pumping gas is very low. However it is not zero, and there are signs posted advising people to not use their cell phones. Again, there is also the distraction factor to consider.)

I also have to add another personal concern… texting while walking.

No, you won’t cause a great deal of damage if you walk into something while staring at your phone. But you could get seriously injured, whether by walking into a lamp post or out in front of a vehicle.

Worse than that, in my opinion, are people who text while pushing their infants in a stroller. Hey, if you walk out in front of a vehicle, well… that’s your problem. But if you push your baby out in front of a vehicle… really, it’s just unthinkable.

Folks, this is one of those “just because you can doesn’t mean you should” scenarios. Please, don’t do it.

There are other forms of distraction. 

Eating while driving is near the top of the list. 

Many might consider this to be a non-issue. After all, who hasn’t reached into the bag and grabbed a few fries while driving down the road. Heck, I have.

But eating a burger is a different proposition altogether.

And that’s not the worst of it.

I watched, recently, as a woman was driving down Second Line eating a salad, holding the bowl in one hand and a fork in the other.

How do you react to someone pulling out in front of you when you’re holding your lunch with both hands?

Last year I watched a man driving down Second Line, brushing his teeth. And not just a quick brush — his dentist would be quite pleased with his technique. I watched him from Sackville to People’s Road, and lost sight of him when I pulled into Mac’s, so I don’t know how much longer he continued brushing.

This next peeve crosses a few lines. 

Headphones.

First of all, I do understand why audiophiles prefer headphones, especially todays noise-cancelling models that eliminate any environmental sound leakage, and give listeners a purer musical experience.

Having said that, I think people look silly walking down the mall wearing headphones, but that’s their choice.

On the other hand, these should not be worn while driving.

How can you hear a horn honking, or even a siren blaring, if you are wearing headphones and listening to music?

Admittedly, some people have stereos loud enough to prevent anyone within three metres from hearing an approaching fire truck, but thats another matter altogether.

Headphones are designed to block out external sounds. Now, wearing them — or earbuds — while driving is not illegal, but it certainly is not safe.

As well, if you are involved in an incident where the headphones/earbuds are deemed to be a contributing factor, you could be charged under a number of provisions, such as the “move-over” (for emergency vehicles) law, or “driving without due care and attention.”

It all comes down to being safe.

You may believe yourself to be a safe driver and perhaps you are, for the most part. But using a cellphone or other hand-held device while driving greatly increases your risk of being involved in a collision.

I mentioned earlier that some people consider themselves to be good “multitasks”. Using a device while driving is not multitasking. It is switching rapidly between tasks. Your attention is completely diverted from the task at hand — driving — while you are using your device.

And even if you are that good, are you good enough to encounter someone who is not? You know the one… lighting a cigarette, dog on their lap, cell phone held up to one ear. Who’s at fault when the two of you collide?

Driving is already a multi-tasking activity: you must steer, work the gas and brake, signal, and observe all the way around and far enough ahead to avoid collisions with other vehicles, objects or pedestrians.

You don’t have time to be on the phone.

 

But… that’s just my opinion.

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