The Canada Day long weekend is one of the most popular holidays of the year and I include myself among the many Canadians who enjoy spending time with family and friends during this celebrated occasion.
But the Canada Day long weekend — like other long weekends — can also be a time of sadness and grief for many families whose loved ones are involved in traffic accidents.
Statistics show that traffic accidents and fatalities normally jump during long weekends and that the majority of accidents are the result of not paying attention or careless driving.
According to the Canadian Automobile Association, “80 per cent of collisions and 65 per cent of near crashes have some form of driver distraction as contributing factors.”
The most common distraction for drivers is cellphone use, either talking or texting without the aid of a hands-free device. In fact, someone who is talking or texting while driving is 23 times more likely to be involved in a crash or near crash (Virginia Tech Transportation Institute).
In 2009, the Ontario government banned the use of hand-held devices while driving, but the prospect of a small fine (not to mention a possible increase in insurance premiums if someone is convicted of the offence) hasn’t served as much of a deterrent.
Despite the fines and public awareness campaigns, distracted driving remains high in most provinces. Why are so many drivers still immune to the dire warnings and potential dangers of distracted driving?
Two reasons: First, I suspect fines aren’t large enough. In Ontario, they range from $155 to $500, and there are no demerit points associated with the offence. With the majority of drivers still saying they talk and/or text behind the wheel, one can only conclude the penalties are not severe enough.
Secondly, the seduction of technology is too great a temptation for many drivers to ignore. Constant emails, text messages and social media postings cry out for instant responses from those who feel the need to be connected 24-7-365.
Technology has made incredible improvements in automobile performance, safety and comfort. But these improvements have also created more potential distractions while drivers are behind the wheel. I’m the first to admit that driving can be monotonous, and it’s easy to be distracted with so many bells and whistles angling for your attention.
Drivers need to understand that operating a motor vehicle on public roadways requires their full attention at all times. The slightest distraction, however justified in the driver’s mind, could instantly lead to tragedy and alter lives forever.
Talking and texting on mobile phones aren’t the only forms of driver distraction, either. Drivers are also busy shaving, applying makeup, fiddling with stereo systems, reading newspapers, eating food, checking social media statuses and reaching for fallen objects.
Many drivers treat the act of driving like an annoyance. Last year, Google introduced a driverless car, which could become commercially viable within a few years. In the meantime, however, drivers still need to be in control of their automobiles and pay attention at all times.
Any discussion about driver distraction should include pedestrians as well. Far too many joggers, cyclists, skateboarders and walkers are using smartphones and/or music devices when sharing the roads, and as a result they are often oblivious to the traffic around them.
Pedestrians (like motorists) need to pay attention to their immediate surroundings so that they can react to situations that could otherwise be harmful or fatal.
Please take a moment to consider your current driving habits this Canada Day long weekend, and put safety first. Make the necessary corrections and ignore any distractions that could prevent you and your loved ones from arriving safely at your destination.
Have a happy and safe Canada Day!
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