Make distracted driving a social taboo

It’s time to stop the blasé attitude toward distracted driving.

By Frank Romeo Wheels.ca

Oct 5, 2012 3 min. read

Article was updated 11 years ago

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A recent report conducted for Ford Motor Co. revealed some interesting stats about distracted driving.

The report stated that 99 per cent of licensed drivers said they were safe drivers. Yet, the same group admitted that they regularly engaged in activities classified as “distracted” while behind the wheel.

Seventy-six per cent of respondents admitted that they ate while driving, and 54 per cent said they used a hand-held cellphone while driving.

For me, this report illustrates one of the biggest issues facing motorists and pedestrians today — namely, the blasé attitude toward distracted driving in general. Motorists admit to being engaged in distracted activities while driving, but few admit it’s a problem.

But distracted driving is a problem that doesn’t seem to be going away. Every day, I see drivers of all ages casually chatting away on cellphones, texting, eating food, putting on makeup or shaving and fidgeting with electronic gadgets. For these motorists, operating a vehicle appears to be the last thing on their minds, a task unworthy of their full attention.

The aforementioned report would lead us to believe that distracted driving is not an issue, at least according to the drivers themselves. But the true facts about distracting driving tell a more sobering and realistic story.

According to the Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC), “You are 23 times more likely to be involved in a collision if you text while driving and four times more likely if you talk on a cellphone (hand-held or hands-free) while driving.”

The IBC also says that distracted drivers experience the same level of impairment as someone with a blood-alcohol content of .08 and that distracted driving is estimated to be a contributing factor in eight out of 10 police-reported crashes.

To address this ongoing problem, the Trillium Automobile Dealers Association (TADA) has joined forces with the Ontario Provincial Police Association (OPPA) to launch an awareness campaign highlighting the dangers and consequences of distracted driving. (To view the print ads, visit www.tada.ca.)

The campaign focuses on four common themes: talking on a cellphone without a hands-free device; texting while driving; selecting music on an MP3 device while driving; and checking email or checking social media-GPA enabled social media sites while driving.

The TADA is committed to the issue of distracted driving and understands the importance of a sustained campaign with a consistent message, in order to achieve any effect. We 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 the driver’s mind, could instantly lead to tragedy and alter lives forever.

This awareness campaign is an important step in helping to educate motorists about the dangers of distracted driving. But even with the best of intentions of the OPPA, TADA and IBC, convincing motorists to give driving their full attention will require a sustained effort over many years.

In the 1970s, new seat belt laws met with some resistance before achieving widespread acceptance among drivers. In the 1980s, tougher drinking and driving laws met with resistance until that unlawful activity became a social taboo.

For current distracting driving laws to have an appreciable impact, there needs to be a major cultural shift in attitudes among motorists, passengers, government agencies, pedestrians and the public.

In addition to advertising campaigns, we need to start viewing distracted driving as socially unacceptable and attach serious financial consequences to such behaviour (current fines range from $155 to $500 in Ontario, which amounts to a slap on the wrist).

Until the culture surrounding distracted driving changes and society decides that it will no longer tolerate it, we will continue fighting an uphill battle.
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