By Jenn Watt
Published Sept. 26 2017
Even before smartphones came along our vehicles were loaded with distracting things. Complicated dashboard radios video screens kids fighting in the back seat food from the drive-thru window or even conversation from a passenger can take a driver’s attention from the road.
Then along came cellphones and – much worse – smartphones with music and video maps and weather alongside texting and calling.
Although it seems obvious in retrospect it took us all a while to realize how distracting these new toys were. People chatted with their cellphones up to their ears while driving through intersections texted with forearms holding the steering wheel in place eyes glancing up to the road in between frantically typed messages.
Over time research has confirmed that texting and driving is incredibly dangerous.
In 2013 (the most recent data the government provides) there was a distracted driving crash every half hour in Ontario.
Now Ontario is taking steps to punish those more severely than ever before.
Last week they announced their intention to increase fines substantially (up to $3000 for a third offence) for repeat offenders demerit points and licence suspensions which increase in length depending on how many times the driver has been caught.
The province is also proposing a careless driving offence specifically for incidents causing bodily harm or death.
This legislation if passed will be a helpful deterrent for those who haven’t yet come around to the dangers posed by distracted driving. The steeper the fine one would assume the more likely people will take it seriously.
However what also needs to happen simultaneously is a stronger focus on culture change.
Just as drinking and driving was once an accepted practice our culture today is one mesmerized by the glowing screen of the cellphone and we haven’t yet reached the right level of respect for the power of our vehicles combined with the attention-sucking lure of the phone.
In addition to ramping up fines and demerit points more resources need to go into hammering home the message that you don’t need to be drunk or impaired by drugs to be a reckless driver. You just need to be tempted enough to grab that phone to check one more text in order to cause incredible destruction.
This kind of change won’t happen immediately but it needs to be tackled aggressively and from multiple sources – media schools social media.
It can no longer be seen as acceptable to text and drive. The sooner we drive that message home the better.