As when the laws concerning of Seatbelts and Drinking and Driving were introduced, the issue of Distracted Driving is meeting some initial resistance, despite solid evidence that it is at least as risky as drinking and driving, if not more so.
I recall some of the arguments against wearing seatbelts when the law was introduced in 1975 (legislation came into effect 1 January 1976)…
…what if your vehicle ends up submerged under water, and you can’t get the buckle undone?
…what if your vehicle catches fire?
…what if the buckle won’t open?
Of course, those, and other, “what-ifs” paled by comparison to being ejected head-first through the windshield, a consequence that not only was far more likely to occur, but did indeed happen far too often.
Even the drinking and driving issue had too many drivers insisting that they “knew their limit” or that they would “drive more carefully” after having been drinking.
Again, reality pointed to a far different picture.
Last week, during a driving lesson, I had occasion to be stopped at a red light and noticed the driver of the vehicle in the right lane was holding her phone in her hand and speaking into it.
I rolled down my window and caught her attention, and asked if she was aware that the fine for using her phone had increased to $1000. She replied that she did know this but said, “It’s okay, I’m on hands-free.”
I pointed and said, “No you’re not. You’re holding it in your hand.”
She seemed puzzled by this statement.
The light changed and we drove on; she made a right turn so I could not see whether or not she had put her phone down.
I have had similar responses from other drivers who were holding their phones, and I’m left to conclude that some people may not understand the difference between the speaker phone feature and “hands-free”.
Hint: If you’re holding it in your hand…
I occasionally have driving students who, for a variety of reasons, have not had much experience behind the wheel. They find it takes a great deal of their attention to co-ordinate their hands, feet, and eyes while driving.
As they begin to get smoother, I ask them if they’ve ever heard anyone say that they can use their phones while they drive, because they are good at “multi-tasking”? Their reaction is very consistent: most of them have heard someone — perhaps a friend — make such a statement, but they go on to state how they cannot believe that anyone could safely use their phone and drive.
I explain that, as they are discovering, driving is already multi-taking… looking, working the accelerator, brakes and steering to safely manoeuvre their vehicle through traffic. Adding the use of a phone into the mix is simply an unnecessary distraction.
What happens, though, is that people will use their phones and not crash, so they begin to believe that they are “good at multi-tasking.”
I watch people use their phones all the time; some talking on speaker phone, some blatantly holding their phone up to their ear.
Many obviously do not care.
Oh, I’ve seen some who quickly lower their phone out of sight when they spot a Police car, but many just don’t seem to care who sees them.
And, what would be funny if it were not so sad part are the ones who are texting, who seem to think that no one can tell what they are doing.
Really… you’re stopped at a red light, staring down at your crotch. I suppose they are other things you could be doing, but again, not while driving!
Then, when the light changes, and they fail to notice that the vehicle ahead of them is now half-way down the next block, or the driver behind them leans on the horn, it’s pretty much confirmed.
Just so you know, its not just phones or other tech devices that can be a distraction. I once had a woman behind me on Bay Street who was flipping through and making notes in her DayTimer. Every time the light turned green I would leave her about a half block behind, until she looked up and noticed and raced to catch up… only to stop at the next light less than a metre behind me.
At one point I changed lanes so that I would be in the adjacent lane, rolled my window down and spoke to her, telling her she should pay attention to her driving.
Her response was, “What? I haven’t hit you, have I?”
As I mentioned, the real problem is when people become confident in their ability to “multi-task” and convince minimize the risk their behaviour puts themselves and other in.
I’ve watched people try to negotiate tight turns one-handed, making a rather jerky arc in the process.
I’ve almost been hit by people who turned left across my path as they turned into a fast-food joint. I’m fairly sure — or at least, I’m reasonably confident — that if they hadn’t been on their phone they might have exercised better judgment and waited until I passed before turning.
However people try to rationalize this behaviour, it is obvious that it will take a shift in societal attitudes towards distracted driving, in much the same way that attitudes toward drinking and driving have changed.
Today, a media report of just one drunk-driver being caught and charged evokes outrage, a change in attitude that developed over the past thirty years .
Hopefully it won’t take that long for attitudes toward distracted driving to change.