© Guardian photo by Heather Taweel
Minister Robert Vessey, left, and Amanda Dean, vice president Atlantic Insurance Bureau of Canada, were promoting the Leave the Phone Alone campaign. Islanders are encouraged to pledge not use their mobile devices while driving.
It’s not the end of the world, says Transportation Minister Robert Vessey, if you have to wait a few seconds to pull over while driving and take a call on your cellphone.
But not waiting could mean the end of the world for someone you love, he says.
A shocking video that stems from a highway collision in Northern Ontario a few weeks ago puts faces to the minister’s words. It probably should be required viewing for all motorists tempted to use their cellphones while driving.
A camera mounted on the dash of a vehicle shot the jolting video. The ‘dash cam’ offers a clear view of the highway in front of a man and his wife as they enjoy a leisurely drive near Kenora, Ont. And it clearly shows a pickup truck with a trailer in tow as it blows through a Stop sign at the end of a side road and cuts directly in front of the couple’s car. Incredibly, there were no serious injuries in the ensuing crash.
To his credit, the driver of the truck took full responsibility. CTV quoted the couple as saying the man told them he forgot he was pulling a trailer and was trying to accelerate around the oncoming vehicle. Police charged him with failing to yield to traffic.
But it didn’t end there.
The couple’s vehicle was smashed and so was the dash cam, but the memory card was intact. When they posted the crash on Facebook, a friend noted the driver had his hand up to his ear at the time of the collision. A still photo captured from the video clearly shows the driver was engrossed in a conversation on his cellphone, seemingly unaware he had just run a Stop sign or that he had crossed into the path of another vehicle.
As a result of the dash cam video, the driver was subsequently charged with driving while using a hand-held communication device.
Fortunately, this story had a happy ending but as Vessey correctly points out, that’s not always the case in accidents caused by distracted drivers.
That’s why he and a team of safe driving advocates will be traveling across the province to raise awareness about the dangers of using cellphones while driving. The campaign is called Leave the Phone Alone and last year, it saw 4,500 students sign an online pledge promising not to use a mobile device when they get behind the wheel.
Another advocate, Amanda Dean from the Insurance Board of Atlantic Canada, noted the delay in a distracted driver’s reaction time equates to that of a driver with a blood-alcohol level of .08. Even more sobering, she said drivers who text behind the wheel are 23 times more likely to be involved in a collision.
These campaigns certainly help educate Islanders about the dangers of distracted driving, and enforcement also helps drive the message home. On P.E.I., it carries a $400 fine and a deduction of three demerit points.
In Ontario, legislation has been introduced to raise the minimum fine for distracted driving to $1,000 and, for the first time, to deduct three demerit points. They have good reason. The Globe and Mail quotes Ontario Provincial Police as saying distracted driving has become the No. 1 killer on roads in that province. Seventy-eight people died in distracted driving-related collisions in 2013 compared with 57 impaired driving deaths and 44 speed-related deaths, the Globe story says.
Enforcement and education should encourage motorists to concentrate solely on their driving when they get behind the wheel. And if they become more popular, dash cams may also play a role in making drivers think twice before talking or texting on a hand-held cellphone. It could also capture on video other puzzling habits of distracted drivers, such as juggling a coffee and a bagel, applying lipstick or tying a tie, to name a few.
Knowing your cellphone conversation may be captured on video would be one more reason for all drivers to use more common sense when they get behind the wheel.
Legislation, enforcement and education are absolutely necessary because common sense, sadly, isn’t all that common when it comes to distracted driving.
Wayne Young is an instructor in the journalism program at Holland College in Charlottetown.