A moment’s distraction, a lifetime of pain

Distracted driving leaves much collateral damage in its wake

The presence of a uniformed RCMP officer on a Chilliwack transit bus Tuesday turned a few heads.

But his concern wasn’t with anyone on the bus.

His attention was on the outside.

He was part of a co-ordinated effort this month to target drivers who seem unwilling to stay off their cell phones while driving.

With clipboard in hand, the officer braced himself by a window and watched the passing vehicles for offending drivers.

Several marked and unmarked patrol cars were on the road as well. They followed close by, responding to his radio tips, or scouting independently.

The tactic is not new. In the past, police have ridden buses, been hoisted up in bucket lifts, or even disguised as panhandlers at key intersections. The measures demonstrate the growing frustration with distracted driving and concern over the carnage it causes.

More than 80 people will die in B.C. this year in accidents where distracted driving is a contributing factor, statistics show. That’s more than one quarter of all traffic fatalities, and surpasses impaired driving.

But that’s only part of it. For every person killed there are many more who suffer life altering injuries. They are the ones we rarely hear about. Yet long after the accident has been cleared and the media stories have faded, they cope with the injuries and aftermath.

I was thinking about that as the transit bus bumped along Vedder Road Tuesday.

Many years ago I worked in a hospital, covering a variety of jobs. The experience gave me a unique perspective on the 24-hour world inside a hospital.

Much of my time was spent in the OR, mopping floors and transporting patients.

It is a different place. Aside from being physically cut off from the rest of the hospital, connection with patients is brief. They come and go, and their stories rarely have a concluding chapter.

On the bus, I was thinking about one young woman who had been in a car accident. Besides the broken bones and internal injuries, the skin on the back of one hand had been shaved down to the bone. The concern was not only grafting new skin to repair the wound, but also checking the nerves and tendons that make up such a delicate and complex machine.

The surgery on her hand was a success, and I soon forgot the incident.

But weeks later, while on the floors retrieving another patient for surgery, I saw her – still in hospital, still a patient, and still in a wheelchair.

It was a reality check. While we might get on with our lives following news of a major crash, for others the wounds may never fully heal.

That’s why one moment’s distraction can have such a profound effect. An innocent reply to an annoying text can have consequences that alter lives forever.

That message still has trouble getting through. As our bus rumbled along Vedder, we passed at least two vehicles pulled over by our accompanying patrol cars.

The drivers could be facing fines of at least $368.

But that’s small change compared to the years lost to rehabilitation, reconstructive surgery and therapy necessitated by one simple and stupid mistake.

Greg Knill is editor of the Chilliwack Progress

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