Distracted driving is not merely a national problem, not for Canada and not for the United States of America. It doesn’t stop or start at the 49th parallel. The issue is not limited to age, race, religion, culture or language. Where there are vehicles on the road, there are bound to be distracted drivers.
During a recent winter trip to top up on vitamin D; it was clear that Palm Springs and Cathedral City share our challenge with getting drivers to put down the phones. So, although I completely unplugged from technology for my week away, I did manage to chat with motorcycle officer, Sgt. Scott Sharpe upon my return.
“The use of hand-held devices when driving is a HUGE problem,” shared Sgt. Sharpe. “Just today I saw 11 violations in a 5 mile stretch.”
Texting while driving is currently illegal in 35 states while every province in Canada has some type of legislation regarding bans on handheld devices while driving. It would seem that Alberta’s distracted driving legislation introduced in September 2010 offers the most comprehensive legislation covering not only handheld electronic devices, but also personal grooming, reading, writing, sketching and entering information on a GPS.
No matter how the legislation is worded, the overriding message is clear: keep your eyes on the road, hands on the wheel and ideally pay full attention to the cognitively demanding task of driving a vehicle.
The universal challenge seems to lie with changing drivers’ perceptions of what they’re capable of doing at the wheel. Much like Canada, there are PSA’s (public service announcements) radio spots, and print ads being implemented throughout the US. What seems to be lacking in both countries is a unified approach through education. California has their own version of a graduated licensing program, but also requires mandatory in-class and road lessons before getting a driver’s license.
British Columbia only requires that all new drivers participate in their Graduated Licensing Program but formal lessons are not mandatory. Drop It And Drive’s corporate supporter, Young Drivers of Canada not only addresses distracted driving prevention during in-class and road lessons but successful program completion can shorten the length of time a driver has to spend at the ‘N’ level by six months; assuming no violations.
So, why are drivers still taking risks by using handheld devices when driving? “Everybody knows the issue,” says Sgt. Sharpe, “but they just don’t care.”
Sgt. Sharpe believes that the consequence (e.g. the penalty) has to reflect the severity of the offense. Distracted driving is killing Americans and Canadians, and he feels that most won’t pay attention until it becomes a ‘moving violation’ resulting in impacts on insurance and a person’s driving record. I talked about some of the thoughts on what it will take to change Canadian driver behavior in my post, What’s It Gonna Take for Drivers to Unplug? So, with respect to tackling this issue, which is nearing epidemic levels, it seems the US and Canada are facing similar challenges…getting drivers to care enough to put it down!
P.S. A tip from motor officer, Sgt. Sharpe of the Cathedral City Police Department and motor officer, Corp. Bryan Fedirchuk of the Surrey RCMP – there is NO SUCH THING as sneaky texting. They see you!!!