Leaving traffic laws on read: texting and driving in 2019

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I think at every age people text and drive, but I do believe that the senior high school or beginning of post-secondary age range would be the worst. In that age, phones are usually a big part of individuals lives and combining that with them possibly being in the earlier years of driving may make them over confident in their abilities and underestimate the risk of texting and driving.

People these days just can’t seem to put down their phones — even behind the wheel.

With distracted driving being the number one cause of accidents on Canadian roads today, equating to eight in 10 collisions, choosing to text and drive is a dangerous decision. The National Safety Council Survey reports that approximately 26 per cent of all car crashes involve the use of phones, including hands-free phone use.

While many activities that fall under the distracted category — using your phone and operating your GPS, for example — individuals texting and driving are up to eight times more likely to be involved in a crash than a non-distracted driver.

Some would say texting and driving is more common in teenagers and young drivers compared to other generations. As more rules and regulations have been put into place in regards to texting and driving, the question of which generation is most guilty remains unanswered.

Distracted driving is “the diversion of attention from driving, as a result of the driver focusing on a non-driving object, activity, event or person. This diversion reduces awareness, decision-making or performance leading to increased risk of driver error, near-crashes or crashes.”

In 2017, a video was uploaded to YouTube that showed street cameras recording people texting and walking. This video was titled “you can’t even text and walk” to show that if individuals are not able to text and walk at the same time, they should certainly not be able to text while driving. This video was created by the Western Cape Government in South Africa, with the hashtag #ItCanWait, to signify that sending one text can wait until you have arrived in order to potentially save you your life, as well as others.

In 2019, stiffer fines and consequences were set for distracted drivers in Ontario in order to minimize the ever-common crime. Drivers that are now stopped for using their handheld device in any regard, such as talking, texting, dialing or emailing, could be fined up to $1,000 dollars, which is nearly double the initial fine. Drivers convicted for a second time will be fined up to $2,000 and six demerit points as well as a seven-day driver’s license suspension. Drivers with multiple convictions within five years could face a $3,000 fine, six demerit points and a 30-day license suspension.

Ontario is increasing these laws because of how critical texting and driving has become. In 2017, distracted driving caused the most accidents on Ontario roads and of these, 65 were fatal due to texting. The number of collisions and crashes from texting and driving has slowly been increasing over the years, but some remain skeptical that increased fines and penalties will get people to ditch their cell before they end up in one.

“I think that texting and driving is an issue because people are so focused on replying to text messages and not focused on the roads. People have become so dependent on their phones that they are unable to just drive without going on them,” said Taylor Todd, a second year student in Nursing. “Unfortunately, I don’t think an increase in fines is going to do anything for the public. I think that if people want to go on their phones or are addicted to them, they’re going to do it anyway. Maybe once they get stopped, they’ll realize but ultimately, if they want to answer that text, they’re going to do it.”

However, some are optimistic that the increased fines will encourage drivers to not text and drive.

“I think at every age people text and drive, but I do believe that the senior high school or beginning of post-secondary age range would be the worst. In that age, phones are usually a big part of individuals lives and combining that with them possibly being in the earlier years of driving may make them over confident in their abilities and underestimate the risk of texting and driving,” said Brianna Warchol, a second year student in the Child Health program. “I think all people have the ‘it won’t happen to me’ attitude. Even though we often know the real dangers of texting and driving we don’t believe it’ll happen to us or that we’d ever be involved in an incident because of it.”

In Kingston, Ontario, Wiebke Wilkins and a group of staff and dedicated volunteers have taken a unique approach to raising awareness for the significance of the harmful act by starting the Stop Texting While Driving Campaign through Kingston: Partners for a Safe Community.

“At Kingston: Partners for a Safe Community, we take a multi-step approach to combat texting and driving, specifically for the months of May and June. During these months we run billboard ads, programs such as P.A.R.T.Y. and various injury preventions as well as set up stations at major intersections where we count people texting and driving,” said Wilkins. “These initiatives are all beneficial for the community as they are able to raise awareness for the effect that texting and driving can have on us. Even with the increased fines and charges if you are caught, this is still a prominent issue in today’s society and something that needs to be addressed.”

Kingston: Partners for a Safe Community is a not-for-profit organization that has been running for the past 21 years, led by Wilkins, the president and co-founder. Their motto is “to make Kingston the safest city in the world to live, learn, play and work in.” This organization seeks to focus on health and safety issues within the community of Kingston. Each year, a new initiative that could be taken within the community is acknowledged and addressed by the police, fire and paramedic departments. These initiatives are funded by the Ministry of Transportation.

As Wilkins stated, one of the several programs and events are held in order to raise awareness for the significance of texting and driving is the P.A.R.T.Y. program. Kingston: Partners for a Safe Community informs teachers of the program and they are able to sign their students up for the day. This program sees various injury preventions talks and presentations given by the fire, police and paramedic departments as well as the Ministry of Transportation. Students are also given a tour of the hospital, to the trauma unit and the morgue, in order to witness how patients would be treated after being hospitalized for distracted driving charges.

Texting and driving is something that can easily be avoided but with the ever present need for communication in today’s society, it continues to be an issue. Some tips to avoid texting while driving include; turning off notifications, putting your phone on silent, putting the phone in the back seat of your car or in the glove box, having a passenger text or call for you and pulling over to answer the text if it is safe to do so.

“Texting and driving is still and likely always will be a problem with traffic safety. It is difficult to say if drivers’ behaviours are changing. Enforcement is certainly on the rise, and so hopefully there will soon be a shift in decreasing the number of collisions as a result of distracted driving. We see offences made by all ages. We are a society that has shifted toward dependence on our phones and it becomes difficult for everyone to put the phone down especially with constant text communication,” said Kevin Hoogendam, a Niagara Regional Police Officer. “Taking our eyes off the road for even just a quick read of that incoming text message takes our attention off the road for too long. Conditions can change suddenly and those few seconds can make a difference. Drivers need to create a plan to curb their behaviours and stick to it. That could be silencing the phone or keeping it out of reach.

According to Hoogendam, there’s only so much that new laws and stricter traffic enforcement can do to prevent texting and driving.

“It all starts with our personal commitment to safety. If you know it’s been a problem, address it now before you look back with regret,” said Hoogendam.

To learn more about texting and driving penalties and facts individuals should visit Ontario.ca/page/distracted-driving.

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