What is it going to take to get motorists to put away their mobile devices while driving?
This is a question that police departments, government agencies, automotive associations (including the Trillium Automobile Dealers Association) and insurance companies have been grappling with for more than a decade.
In fact, it’s a question I ask myself frequently as well, when I see motorists chatting on their cellphones without the aid of a hands-free device, and sneaking a peak at their phones when they are stopped at a traffic light.
Despite the police crackdowns to catch offenders and media blitzes to enlighten the public, distracted driving continues to be the most life-threatening behaviour on our roads.
Experts have been debating the issue of distracted driving for years. Some reports suggest that technology is to blame, that our always-on connectivity is highly addictive. This may partly explain the high percentage of drivers who continue to break the law when it comes to mobile devices and driving.
In Ontario, for the fourth straight year, distracted driving is the leading factor in fatal road accidents (65) investigated by the OPP. According to the Ontario government, “One person is injured in a distracted-driving collision every half-hour.”
This, despite stiff fines and penalties associated with this offence: In Ontario, motorists can expect a set fine of $490 and three demerit points if convicted, and a judge could increase the amount up to $1,000, if a case ends up in court.
In the Greater Toronto Area alone, the number of distracted driving tickets in the first three months of 2017 rose 37 per cent over the same period last year (1,840 vs. 1,345).
Are there easy answers to this problem? No, I think that all of the stakeholders mentioned above need to continue advocating against all forms of distracted driving until driver behaviours change.
When I think back to the 1970s, new seat belt laws were met with similar resistance by the public. As I recall, it took several years for the majority of drivers to accept and comply with seat belt laws.
In the 1980s, tougher drinking and driving laws were met with resistance, too, until that unlawful activity became a social taboo. (Impaired driving is still a big problem in Canada — in 2015, police reported 72,039 impaired driving incidents).
For current distracted-driving laws to have meaningful impact, there needs to be a major shift in attitude among motorists, passengers, government agencies, pedestrians and the public. In short, there needs to be widespread intolerance for this type of activity.
Besides the financial penalties, loss of demerit points and possible jail sentences, distracted driving can lead to other damaging consequences, such as physical injuries, health expenses, property damage, and rising insurance costs.
If you are a motorist who continues to indulge in any form of distracted driving, please understand that you are jeopardizing your own life and the lives of others, and you need to stop immediately.
Distracted driving usually indicates engaging with a mobile or electronic device, but it also encompasses other in-car activities, such as applying makeup, fidgeting with an audio system, reading, shaving or eating.
Also Read: Advice for young or inexperienced drivers
The TADA is committed to advocating against all forms of distracted driving and understands the importance of supporting campaigns with a consistent message, in order to achieve a goal of zero tolerance.
We all need to remind ourselves that operating a motor vehicle on public roadways requires our full attention at all times. The slightest distraction, however justified in a driver’s mind, could instantly lead to tragedy and alter lives forever.
On behalf of the TADA, think safety first and put away those mobile devices while driving.
This column represents the views and values of the TADA. Write to email@example.com
or go to tada.ca. Larry Lantz is president of the Trillium Automobile Dealers Association and is a new-car dealer in Hanover, Ont.