These days, there's no denying that most of us can never be more than an arm's reach away from our cell phones. Whether we're out on the town, sitting on the couch, or even sleeping, our phones are always right there with us. For the most part, this is a good thing. Our friends and family are always at our fingertips, and smartphones ensure that we always have information of any kind available at a moment's notice.
However, there is a right time and a wrong time to be using our cell phones, and one of the worst is while driving. We know that we should always be giving our full attention to the road while driving, but with our phones right next to us it's often hard to ignore the lure of a quick call, email, or text message.
Texting is one of the most dangerous things you can do while driving, and is an increasingly common factor in motor vehicle accidents since it forces you to take your hands off the wheel and eyes off the road. Unfortunately, the habit has become so commonplace across every age and demographic that most of us don't think much of it anymore. In fact, nearly all of us (98% of Canadians!) know that texting while driving is unsafe, yet 35% of drivers admit to doing it anyways!
Close Your Eyes & Count to Five
A statistic from Distraction.gov - the official US government website for distracted driving, found that on average, a texting driver will take their eyes off the road for about 4.6 seconds. It may be hard to believe at first, but it just goes to show how truly dangerous texting while driving really is. To put this into perspective, if you're driving on a residential street where the speed limit is 50km/h, you'll cover nearly 64 metres of road in that time. That's the same as driving the full length of an NHL hockey rink with your eyes closed!
Over that distance and amount of time, there's so much that can happen in front of you, and there can be severe consequences. For example, a car can reverse out of a driveway, a pedestrian could cross the street, or the driver in front of you can suddenly brake. It can take about 1.5 seconds to react and brake to something happening in front of you, and if you're texting while driving, there's simply not enough time to notice the danger and act accordingly.
The odds of getting into a collision that will cause damage, personal injuries, or worse are much higher when you're texting. Studies have even found that texting drivers are 23 times more likely to be in a crash.
A Text Message While Driving Can Cost Way More Than A Few Cents
One of the best things about texting is that it's so convenient and affordable to send a message. However, if you text while driving you are breaking the law, and there are legal consequences if you're caught. In Ontario, it has been illegal to text and drive (or use your cell phone in any other way) since 2009 under the province's distracted driving laws.
If caught by the police, drivers that text will face at least a $155 fine, and in court, a judge can significantly increase the punishment, including fines up to $500. A distracted driving can even be upgraded to careless driving, which can result in:
- Up to a $2000 fine
- Possible jail time
- 6 demerit points
- And potentially a 50% increase in your car insurance premiums
Even worse, if injuries or damage result from a collision due to texting while driving, there is a very high chance of more significant charges, lawsuits, and life-changing repercussions.
What Will It Take to Stop Drivers from Texting Behind the Wheel?
Karen Bowman is the Founder and Board Chair for Drop It And Drive, a renowned Canadian organization that offers workshops & education programs on distracted driving prevention across British Columbia, Alberta, and Ontario for students and corporations alike. Karen was kind enough to share her expert thoughts on what it will take to get people to stop driving while distracted.
"Sadly, and frustratingly, for most people the change won't happen until they are personally and tragically impacted by distracted driving. The issue of distracted driving isn't the distraction itself, whether it's a phone, GPS, reading, eating, drinking, unrestrained pets or simply daydreaming; the issue is about driving and people's belief of what is acceptable or safe behavior. There are many documented stories where the distracted driver who has caused a tragedy says, "I thought I could do it." The predominant belief seems to be that it's other drivers who cause crashes. The behaviors won't change until we can redefine people's perceptions and beliefs around safe driving practices.
It's taken close to two decades for drinking and drinking to become socially unacceptable; we need a monumental societal shift to take place in order to effectively address distracted driving. My fear is that with the sense of entitlement and, to some extent arrogance, that is displayed by those who continue to put themselves and others at risk, it may well take longer for distracted driving.
So, how do we get there? Laws are absolutely necessary with appropriate fines, demerit points & legal consequences in place. While some believe that the laws for driving without due care and attention are sufficient to cover the issue; those laws don't allow for proactive enforcement. Under those laws, officers can only do something once someone is driving in a manner that puts road users at risk. Laws specific to distracted driving allow enforcement officers to take a preventative role in saving lives by addressing the behavior without the requirement of unsafe driving. The fines clearly need to be higher than they are and, in my opinion, should double with each successive offense. Texting and driving should be a criminal offense as the consequences of this high risk behavior are every bit as catastrophic as drinking and driving.
Education and awareness are an essential element to taking a proactive role in addressing road safety issues. But in order to be effective, the education and awareness must be creative, relevant and reality-based. As with our program, the information should start at the elementary school level and run straight through to established drivers in the workforce. Distracted driving is not a youth issue, it's people of all ages choosing to make driving a secondary activity to whatever else it is they deem more important.
And finally, societal pressure is necessary to bring about the shift that's needed to place distracted driving firmly in the same category as drinking & driving...100% unacceptable and not to be tolerated by society as a whole. Those who drive distracted believe their convenience or entertainment is more important than the safety & lives of others.
My question to those who know it's wrong and unsafe, but still do it, is what reason is good enough to stop? Is it the possibility of never seeing your family again? Or perhaps having to live with taking someone else from their family? It shouldn't have to take a catastrophic tragedy to change what is undeniably high risk behavior."
A Visual Look at the Truth and Consequences of Texting While Driving
The following infographic outlines some of the facts and figures on texting while driving. Hopefully it will help encourage all you drivers out there to put your cell phones away when you get behind the wheel and stay safe on the roads!