We Teach Driving Like Your Life Depends On It

Another dip into readers’ mailbag

By Steve Wallace
Times Colonist, June 24th 2016

A regular reader of Steve Wallace’s column asks a topical question: Why is it illegal to use a handheld device while driving, when using a hand-free device is legal, in spite of studies that show it is equally dangerous?

Dwayne asked why there is no warning of the presence or absence of a proper merge lane when visibility is poor entering a freeway or highway.  It’s a valid question.  He also says it would be much easier for the average driver to anticipate what lies ahead at the entrance to a freeway if signs were erected to tell drivers whether they should increase speed or, in the absence of a merge lane, prepare to stop.  This is an excellent suggestion.  It would certainly eliminate the guesswork every driver faces when entering a poor-visibility, unfamiliar situation at a highway merge site.

Naomi wanted to know why the horn in her car is so loud.  She wants to warn traffic ahead, but worries about scaring other drivers, cyclists and pedestrians.  Her query reminded me of my old 1974 Cadillac horn, which sounded like a freight train coming at you from about 10 metres away.  It’s best to tap or punch this type of extremely loud horn to get desired result.

Bruce asked whether it’s legal to pass a vehicle that is stopped for pedestrians at a crosswalk.  There are often signs telling drivers it is illegal to pass at an occupied crosswalk.  Drivers must stop when the vehicle beside them has stopped at a crosswalk.  It’s often impossible to see pedestrians at the curb on a four-lane road, with two lanes going in the same direction.  The vehicle is the right lane will hide pedestrians leaving the curb and other drivers will not see them.  If the car beside you stops at a crosswalk, you must do the same.  The unseen hazard is often the most dangerous.

Russ asked for a definition of distracted driving.  He is aware of the laws covering texting and using a handheld phone while driving.  He wanted to know if eating a burger while driving or other activities behind the wheel such a reading a map or drinking coffee, would qualify as distracted driving.  The answer is yes.  The charges for such behavior are generally laid after a crash takes place.  Pets on the lap or shoulder of a driver are included in this distracted category.

Richard asked a very pointed question.  Why did his friend get a distracted-driving ticket for checking the phone while stopped at an intersection.  Why did his friend gets a distracted-driving ticket for checking the phone while stopped at an intersection, when checking a map while stopped does not result in a traffic ticket?  The law is quite clear.  No handheld device is permitted while the vehicle is operational, with the motor running.

Val weighed in on the topic as well, noting that while a handheld device is illegal, a dash-mounted voice-activated system is legal, despite the fact that there is no more appreciable difference in the crash rate for handheld and hands-free us of a cellular phone.

Leon made a good point about professional drivers, saying that unlike many other professional, they have to make split-second decisions.  Bankers, lawyers, and CEOs can simply say:  “Let me think about that and I will get back to you.”  Drivers have no such luxury in acting to avoid a crash.






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