We have a persistent problem on our roads and highways despite the praiseworthy efforts of police departments, government agencies, advocacy groups and automotive associations to stop it from occurring.
I am talking about distracted driving.
Every single day, whether it is the GTA or in rural Ontario, I see motorists casually holding mobile phones to their ears and looking down at their electronic devices. Sadly, this has become an epidemic.
I survived without a smartphone for most of my life as these devices did not exist prior to the 2000s. Why can’t we just put the smartphones down in our vehicles while we are driving? It won’t kill us, will it? But distracted driving can.
Inattentive driving poses a bigger danger to motorists and pedestrians than any other form of illegal driving activity. In the past five years, it has led to more fatalities on OPP-patrolled roads than alcohol and drug-related fatalities.
Since 2009 (when distracted laws first took effect in Ontario) and March 2018, a total of 692 people have been killed in collisions because of an inattentive driver on OPP-patrolled roads.
The police, governments and other stakeholders have been vigilant on this issue. For more than a decade, the Trillium Automobile Dealers Association has advocated against dangers of distracted driving.
Police forces conduct seasonal blitzes in an effort to catch distracted drivers. They have also gotten creative in how they catch offenders, riding on buses, hiding in bushes and disguising themselves as panhandlers.
The Ontario government has moved to impose heavier penalties. It has introduced tougher legislation aimed at offending motorists who insist on using mobile devices in their cars without the aid of a hands-free device.
Starting on January 1, 2019, drivers who are convicted of distracted driving for the first time could receive a fine of up to $1,000 (the current fine for a first-time offence is $490) and three demerit points on their licence.
If someone is convicted a second time, the fine could jump to $2,000, six demerit points and a seven-day licence suspension. A third offence could result in a fine of up to $3,000, six demerit points and a 30-day licence suspension.
Distracted driving, as it applies to the Highway Traffic Act, is concerned only with the use of hand-held communication and entertainment devices and display screens.
Other forms of distracted driving are no less dangerous. Fiddling with a GPS screen or an iPod, reading a magazine or retrieving something from a back seat are all forms of inattention that could result in an accident (or worse) and should be avoided at all times.
What will it take to eliminate this dangerous and criminal activity? Constant vigilance on the part of drivers, passengers and the public. We need distracted driving to attain the type of social stigma associated with drinking and driving.
In the 1980s, governments, police forces and advocacy groups began get serious about drinking and driving, and within a decade, it had become socially unacceptable to partake in this activity. Financial consequences for this offence increased as well.
We need distracted driving to become socially unacceptable.
If you are a distracted driver, I urge you to think about your safety — and the safety of your loves ones and fellow motorists — and stop immediately. If you know someone who is a distracted driver, speak to him/her and explain the risks.
As a mother, wife, daughter, sister and friend, I do not ever want to receive a phone call that a loved one has been hurt or taken due to a distracted driver. Think of those in your life before you go to pick up your phone in your vehicle the next time. Just don’t do it.
This column represents the views and values of the Trillium Automobile Dealers Association. Susan Gubasta is president of the TADA and is president/CEO of Mississauga Toyota. Write to email@example.com or go to tada.ca. For information about automotive trends and careers, visit carsandjobs.com.