I had an unsettling moment on the way to work this week. I was in the centre, left-hand turn lane on Fitzgerald, heading north, waiting for traffic to clear to make my turn onto 10th Street.
As I waited for one vehicle to pass heading south, the driver of that vehicle and I made brief eye contact. Then, as he passed me, his eyes shifted down, to his crotch.
The fact that he did not immediately have a shocked or scared look on his face told me his pants were not on fire, nor was there a tarantula on his lap. It was easy to surmise that his eyes were on a phone. I watched him proceed through my rear-view mirror. He had not gotten 25 feet past me when his car started to veer into the centre lane. A sudden jerk back into his own lane indicated that he looked up in time. This time.
No harm, no foul, right?
Sadly, that’s the overwhelming attitude.
A province-wide, month-long crackdown on distracted driving comes to an end today, and I am interested in seeing some of the stats, when they become available.
Locally, the RCMP and their auxiliary officers had a week-long blitz in the middle of the month, trying to send the message of awareness out to the public.
Was it effective? That’s hard to gauge, but we do know that at least one driver had no interest in changing her habits, even after being caught and given a $167 fine for using her cell phone while driving. How do we know she didn’t learn? She was caught, again, later that same day.
She is now $334 poorer, and has six demerits on her licence.
Of course, that’s part of the problem. The fines are not worthy of the crime – and it is a crime.
According to ICBC data (http://bit.ly/1RIM4Vu), distraction surpassed impaired driving in B.C. as the “main contributing factor” in fatal crashes in 2011 and has been higher, percentage wise, every year since. In 2013, it surpassed speed, to become the most prominent “main contributing factor” in all fatals; 29 per cent of all fatal crashes were deemed to be because of distracted driving that year.
2014 was the first year since 2007 where the numbers declined for distracted driving, down to 23 per cent. A substantial decline, to be sure. But it’s not nearly good enough.
Stiffer fines are one option, but even better legislation will not totally curb the problem. There is a growing rally to introduce automatic driving prohibitions, akin to those being handed out to impaired drivers. And while that is an improvement – it solves the issue at the time – the fact that police still remove impaired drivers from our roads every single day is proof of its ineffectiveness in stopping the activity outright.
There is, however, a solution. Make phones unusable while the car motor is running. Impractical? Not at all. I can turn on my bedroom lights from New Zealand, if I have the right app on my phone. Surely an app that would disable a phone while my car is running can’t be that hard to configure. Chances are, it’s already been designed. But there are two huge boulders in the way of this ever becoming a reality: The auto industry, and the communications industry. Convincing those two giants to install this piece of equipment in all vehicles before they leave the factory would be a challenge. It’s not in either industry’s best interest.
But it is in my best interest, and it is in yours. And it certainly is in the best interest of the guy who passed me on Fitzgerald. Hopefully he realizes it before it’s too late.
Terry Farrell is the editor of the Comox Valley Record