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How we can stop distracted driving

Recent studies have shown that distracted driving is the leading cause of serious vehicle crashes in the U.S.  Photograph by: Alex Garcia, MCT

Recent studies have shown that distracted driving is the leading cause of serious vehicle crashes in the U.S. Photograph by: Alex Garcia, MCT

By Steve Wallace, Times Colonist, October 23rd 2013

While at the regional driving-school meetings in Portland, Ore., I learned that distracted driving has marginally surpassed drunk driving as the leading cause of serious vehicle crashes in the U.S. The statistic in Canada is very likely the same.

So what is to be done to curb or eliminate this dangerous driving behaviour?

On any given day, we all can see drivers using their handheld cellphone while driving. Businesspeople, mothers transporting infants, young and old alike, all seem to be flouting the law. Despite the fact that hands-free use of a cellphone while driving is legal in most provinces of our country, people still insist on using a handheld device.

The police have stepped up enforcement and still the problem persists. They obviously need the help of the public to reduce this offence. Chief Const. Jamie Graham of Victoria has offered his opinion as to what might be a solution: He wants the public to become involved in stemming the tide of distracted driving. Shaming the offenders is part of his suggested plan. I agree wholeheartedly.

I tried the shaming routine myself last week. It worked like a charm. As we sat at an intersection waiting for the traffic light to change from red to green, I noticed the driver next to me talking on a handheld cellphone. I began to honk my horn in a three-tap cycle in order to attract attention, and drivers and passengers around me began to take notice. One guy actually lowered his window and honked his horn as well. The offending driver quickly caught on and put the phone down, discontinuing the call. Social pressure works.

The police need our help in the same way they needed our help years ago to report drunk drivers. It is very much socially unacceptable to drink and drive in our society today, but it was not always so. In fact, there was a tolerance of impaired driving through the 1950s and ’60s. It became a criminal offence because of social pressure. The same social pressure can radically reduce the deadly practice of distracted driving.

A single tap of the horn usually means a professional driver is about to move a vehicle. A double tap precedes the backing manoeuvre of a pro. Let’s make a triple tap identify a driver using a handheld cellphone.

Perhaps the accompanying operation of the four-way flashers could augment the process of identification and warn other drivers of the hazardous behaviour.

There were two startling pieces of information concerning the use of handheld cellphones that were presented and reinforced in Portland.

There is no study that shows there is a difference in the crash rate for handheld and hands-free operation of a cellphone.

In every jurisdiction where handheld operation has been deemed illegal, the crash rate for such behaviour has increased by an average of 25 per cent. Drivers tend to hide their intention by placing the phone on their lap as opposed to holding it above the steering wheel.

The practice of using a cellphone while driving became a habit for many of us long before the dangers of doing so became obvious, and long before the practice became a driving offence. It is a tough habit to break. It is dangerous and must be addressed. Education, enforcement and social pressure will go a long way to halting the practice. Lives are at stake — do your part.


Steve Wallace is the owner of Joan Wallace Driving School on Vancouver Island and in the Central Interior of B.C. He is the former Western Canadian vice-president of the Driving Schools Association of the Americas, a registered B.C. teacher and a graduate of the University of Manitoba.





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