Sunday, August 25, 2013

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Texting and driving: Distracted driving is fast becoming the number one killer on the highways. Some say it should be treated like drunk driving.

What will it take to prevent it: harsher penalties or clever campaigns?

With guest host Ted Blades.


When the province of Nova Scotia announced this summer that distracted driving … such as talking on cellphones and texting … has become the number one killer on their roads, it surprised many people.

Provincial and national campaigns to raise awareness of the dangers of drunk driving and speeding have succeeded in hammering home the risks, and it all seems to make sense.

But cellphones …those little companions we’ve become so dependent on … killers?

Well…. as it turns out distracted driving is fast becoming the number one killer on Canadian roads.

Saskatchewan preceded Nova Scotia in it becoming the main cause of highway deaths there. And in Ontario it has surpassed drunk driving to become the number two killer behind speeding.

According to Transport Canada’s National Collision Database, the number of fatal collisions where distraction is cited as a cause rose by 17 per cent in Canada between 2006 to 2010, from 302 deaths to 352.

Police say it has become epidemic despite laws in all provinces against it.

And think about it for a moment, Sure, you’re an expert at multi-tasking… but consider all the things you have to keep an eye on, and your mind on, while you’re driving.

What’s happening in front of you, who’s coming up behind you, how fast you’re going… what that kid on the sidewalk is doing what that guy in the lane beside you is up to…

All that – and more – all at the same time. Isn’t that enough?

But add to that the call you have to make, or the text that’s so important you have to read it now, while you’re driving… perhaps you’ve taken on too much….

So what’s the solution? Some say get tougher with the laws … make the penalties like those for drunk driving.

As some experts will point out, the level of distraction and impairment is pretty much the same.

Others say the laws already on the books aren’t working and another approach is needed.

Smart phones are being integrated into cars’ on-board computer systems, Allowing for hands-free use and text-to-voice … but according to new studies, they are proving to be even worse.

Now, distracted driving encompasses more than just cellphone use.

Alberta is the only province that has included other activities in its legislation. Reading, writing, hygiene and other things are written into the law. Some studies have revealed that people engage in a lot of other activities while driving: eating, smoking, talking, adjusting the sound system, looking for CDs, attending to children, putting on makeup, looking at maps, reading books …and more.

But it’s the explosion of cellphone use over the past 15 years that has put that possibility into the hands of most drivers … and many are using it.

Surveys suggest most people understand the danger posed by cellphone use … but some just can’t resist.

Campaigns to underscore the dangers have sprung up across the country … some threatening and some funny, but it is too early to tell if they’re working.

We want to know what do you think?

Will raising awareness to the danger be enough to make people resist answering that call or quickly returning that text? Will the threat of stiff fines and perhaps even jail time for repeat offenders be enough?

Our question today: “Should phoning and texting while driving carry the same penalities as drunk driving?”

I’m Ted Blades …on CBC Radio One …and on Sirius satellite radio channel 169 …this is Cross Country Checkup.