Put the cellphone down and leave it there
By Steve Wallace, Times Colonist, May 20th 2016
Public Safety Minister Mike Morris, who is responsible for laws governing the driving public, made a landmark, logical and much-awaited decision this week to significantly increase fines and penalties for distracted driving, and rightly so.
The fines will now accelerate to a point where drivers who violate the new legislation will be paying well into the thousands of dollars for continuing to ignore the new reality.
Driving suspensions will now kick in much sooner. Even the very wealthy, some of whom have little regard for financial penalties, will now lose the privilege to drive much earlier.
Most people do not know that distracted driving kills as many people as drunk driving. The number of texting and driving infractions, in particular, has increased dramatically over the last decade.
Yet the driving public is much more likely to get a cab or make other plans for getting home after alcohol consumption than to take steps to eliminate distractions such as cellphones.
Every time a dramatic driving regulation has come into effect, it has taken time for the public to embrace the changes.
When mandatory seatbelt legislation was first enacted in 1977 in B.C., it took almost a decade for seatbelt wearing to rise from roughly 65 per cent at the outset to the mid-90 per cent range by the late 19805, where it has largely stayed.
Driving-related deaths have decreased by almost 50 per cent since the 1970s because of this one regulatory change.
Drunk drivers were never thought to be a scourge until the police attended far too many fatal crash scenes where booze was the common denominator.
Today’s impaired-driving laws were the result of public pressure to reduce the carnage on the roads caused by impaired drivers.
The problem with drivers using their cellphones while operating a motor vehicle is similar to those two examples — seatbelts and drunk driving — where authorities attempted to address a problem after the fact.
Once an activity or behaviour has become commonplace, it’s much more difficult to halt.
When 86 per cent of drivers admit to using their cell-phones at least once while driving, we have a big problem.
The dangers of inappropriate cellphone use behind the wheel are obvious.
But will increased penalties help discourage us from using our devices while driving?
Most drivers will react to the new law by severely reducing the use of their cellphones.
They will use the cellphone for emergencies only when behind the wheel.
Others will continue to defy the new law until one of two things, or perhaps both happen: social pressure and a severe fine.
How many of us never wear a seatbelt? How many of us drive drunk on a regular basis?
The overwhelming majority of drivers never violate these two rules of behaviour, not because of the penalties, but because of the social pressure and resulting disdain from peers.
This same social pressure is what is needed to end the habit of cellphone communication while driving a motor vehicle.
Can you survive if you text and drive? It’s a question that is being asked in high schools across North America.
U.S. statistics from 2015 show teens are 23 times more likely to crash when texting and driving.
They are three times more likely to die doing the same.
Eighteen per cent of teens killed while driving in the U.S. last year were texting.
These are statistics delivered to our driving-schools meeting in Chicago late last month.
It’s time for every one of us to support the new anti-distracted driving legislation by urging family, friends and associates to end the activity, now!