What Should I Do About Distracted Driving?
When we think of distracted driving, most of us immediately consider cell phone use. While this might be the most common example used in distracted driving campaigns, it is certainly not the only one. Any action that takes the drivers attention off of the driving task is distracting and is to be avoided. This month the provincial distracted driving campaign is telling us that the second leading cause of collision fatalities in B.C. is not being properly focused on operating your vehicle.
Near the beginning of one of my day shifts I observed a car traveling toward me at 76 km/h in a posted 50 zone. As it came closer, I could see the driver had both arms up moving her hands around her head. After stopping her and asking for her driving documents I could smell a strong odour of hair spray inside the car. She was doing her hair on her way to work! Not only was she distracted by the task, she was not holding onto the steering wheel.
As a collision analyst I was called to investigate a fatal two vehicle collision. One vehicle involved was parked at the side of the road with the left side tires about one meter to the right of the white shoulder line on a straight uphill stretch of four lane highway. My conclusion from what I found in the car is that the driver had stopped to eat lunch and enjoy the scenery. A van traveling in the slow lane drifted to the right while the driver helped the passenger change the CD in the stereo. The resulting half overlap crash killed the driver of the car and injured the occupants of the van.
When I was a teenager, we had one friend in our group who was such a bad driver that the rest of us stopped riding with him. He was more interested in participating with the conversation in the car than he was in driving the vehicle. What scared us the most was his inability to stay in his own lane while he failed to follow the speed limits. Sadly, it was a single vehicle collision later in life that killed him.
The message that distracted driving is a problem on our highways is almost ubiquitous today. The real problem now are the people who ignore that message. I watched a young man pull up beside me at a red traffic light recently. He was texting on his smartphone and holding it at the top of the steering wheel with both hands. When he noticed the marked police vehicle waiting to turn left from the cross street he merely lowered his hands to the bottom of the steering wheel and continued to compose his text.
You may have heard that B.C.'s distracted driving ticket penalties are among the lowest in Canada. You may also have heard this week that the provincial government intends to remedy that sometime in the future. Responsibility for this is not all in the hands of government, ICBC and the police. You can set an example yourself by being a focused driver, refusing to ride with someone who isn't and actively discouraging the practice by reporting distracted drivers to the police. Let's do our best to reduce the average of 81 distracted driving deaths per year in B.C. to zero.