I always strive to set a good example, especially when my daughter is in the car with me. But, as I was reminded the other day, I’m not perfect. I make occasional mistakes and errors of judgment behind the wheel. Fortunately, my most recent gaffe didn’t result in any damage. However, it did give me a very good opportunity for a heavy think on the perils of distracted driving.
It probably happens millions of times every day — a driver takes his or her eyes off the road for a split second to fiddle with the GPS system, and an instant later, they’re slamming on the brakes to avoid an accident. That’s exactly what happened to me when I took a wrong turn while driving my daughter to an out-of-town soccer game, and I very nearly rear-ended a motorist who was slowing down for a yellow light. Even though it’s no excuse, we just got a new car, and I’m still getting used to the layout and ergonomics.
Yikes! Once the panic subsided, I owned up to my mistake and used the situation to try to set a good example and tell my daughter about the dangers of distracted driving.
What Is and Is Not Distracted Driving, Exactly?
When we got home (safely, since I was extra careful on the drive back), I did some research into distracted driving laws and found a comprehensive list of acceptable and unacceptable behind-the-wheel behaviours. It seems to me that many people think distracted driving laws only pertain to handheld electronics, but there are other things you can’t do when you’re driving.
Here is a complete list of illegal activities:
- Composing, sending or reading email on a computer or handheld device
- Texting, using or talking on a handheld cellular phone
- Watching content on an in-vehicle video screen
- Entering coordinates or information into a GPS device (my bad!)
- Operating a camera, computer, video game, MP3 player or other handheld electronic device
- Reading or writing
- Grooming (including touching up makeup, styling or fixing hair, using a toothbrush or dental floss, and clipping or filing fingernails)
At the same time, there are a few activities drivers are permitted to engage in, so long as they keep their attention on the road while doing them:
- Eating or drinking (obviously, this does not extend to alcohol)
- Smoking a cigarette
- Using a hands-free device to talk to someone
- Listening to a pre-programmed MP3 player (hands off while driving!)
- Talking to other people in the vehicle
- Using a pre-programmed GPS device (if you need to enter information or refer to the screen, pull over!)
- Making a 911 call
As a general rule of thumb, it’s better to avoid these activities to the greatest possible degree. I find even minor distractions can affect my driving, and things happen quickly on the road. After my recent near-accident, I won’t be taking any chances in the future.
Penalties for Distracted Driving
This past March, the Alberta government introduced demerit point penalties for distracted drivers, and increased the fine from $172 to $250. Of course, some of the potential consequences of distracted driving go beyond traffic tickets and demerits. The Ontario Provincial Police reported that distracted drivers were involved in more fatal collisions in 2013 than impaired drivers or speeding drivers. That’s cause for serious alarm.
As in Alberta, the Ontario government recently increased distraction fines from $155 to $280. It’s a start, but awareness is a bigger issue. I’d like to see distracted driving become as socially unacceptable as drunk driving; that would be a big help, IMO.
Distracted Driving and Telematics
Through my research, I also learned that telematics are on their way to the Canadian auto insurance industry. While telematics devices won’t watch every single thing people do behind the wheel, they will keep track of driving performance. In other words, if I slam on the brakes to avoid a collision after fiddling with my GPS unit, the telematics device will take note.
Telematics are poised to transform the Canadian auto insurance landscape by offering lower rates to drivers who consistently demonstrate good habits. The last lesson I took away from this incident is that now is the time to work on developing distraction-free driving skills. Once telematics arrive in full force I’d like the potential to reap the benefits they have to offer safe drivers.