No Wheels column that I’ve written has generated as much feedback as the one I wrote about distracted driving (published July 27, 2017).
The blunt message in that column was an appeal to drivers who continue to engage in activities that divert their attention from driving (talking and texting on their mobile phones, reading, shaving, applying makeup, etc.).
One reader, Louis, who is 81 and doesn’t own a computer, wrote me a handwritten letter and paid $10.80 in postage to ensure that his letter was delivered to me.
Louis writes: “Thank you for bringing this serious problem to the attention of millions of Star readers. You will never know how many drivers have stopped using their phones while driving as a result of your article.”
A week earlier, Louis placed a public message in his local newspaper to draw attention to the major problem of accidents caused by distracted driving.
That message read: “It’s not the end of the world if you pick up your phone while driving, but it could be the end of your world. Is it worth the risk? Don’t be tempted. Put your phone on the back seat before you drive. Be safe and stay alive.” He signed it ‘From a Concerned Grandfather.’
Another letter I received was from Chris, a road safety advocate who wrote to thank me for taking a position of zero tolerance on dangerous driver behaviour.
Chris says that despite all of the current efforts to curb distracted driving — increased driver education, redesigning roads, lowering speed limits, enhanced police enforcement, automated speed and red light enforcement, harsher fines, etc. — we are not making much progress.
“Many of the proposed solutions require government legislation, feasibility studies and a lot of time and money,” Chris writes. “This shouldn’t be the case! Technology has contributed to the problem and it can also be a huge part of the solution.”
Chris is involved with a business innovation lab, with a goal of developing a strategy that will deter drivers from engaging in high-risk behaviour when behind the wheel.
Many of those who contacted me about distracted driving agree that more effort is required to stop this dangerous driving activity. Their common message only reinforces the seriousness of this issue and highlights how widespread distracted driving has become.
Distracted driving now contributes to more deaths on Ontario roads than any other driving offence. In 2016, 65 road deaths were attributed to distracted driving — more than one death per week.
We can blame the rise of distracted driving on technology and the addictive nature of the apps, platforms and programs used on hand-held devices. However, individual drivers who make a conscious decision to look down while they are behind the wheel — that’s the real problem.
As delighted as I am that my message resonated with readers, I’m still only one voice. What is needed is more parents, siblings, teachers, educators, police forces, media outlets, government agencies, and other stakeholders to speak up.
We need drivers and passengers to call out others who are talking and texting while they are driving, and we need to ramp up the intolerance for this type of activity.
For the sake of yourself, your loved ones and other drivers, please heed Louis’s advice: “Don’t be tempted. Put your phone on the back seat before you drive. Be safe and stay alive.”
This column represents the views and values of the TADA. Write to [email protected] or go to tada.ca. Larry Lantz is president of the Trillium Automobile Dealers Association and is a new-car dealer in Hanover, Ont.