YOUTH VOICE: Traffic fines just aren’t enough on their own

Distracted driving continues to be among road's biggest dangers, writes columnist Japreet Lehal

In 2010, the B.C. government introduced a law against distracted driving, in which drivers can face fines of $167.

Although this is a positive step towards deterring drivers from utilizing cellphones and other handheld devices, there still needs to be further awareness in the public about the dangers associated with distracted driving.

Similar to the greater awareness about dangers associated with drinking and driving, distracted driving also poses a significant risk to public safety.

According to ICBC, an average of 94 deaths per year occur due to distracted driving in B.C. alone.

Electronic devices have become essential in today’s world. Nevertheless, it is critical for drivers to realize that even a few seconds of electronic device usage can lead to dangerous consequences, both for the drivers and for others on the road.

All drivers need to evaluate their driving habits and make a conscious effort of not using their devices while driving.

According to the RCMP, in 2012, “30 per cent of motor-vehicle fatalities involved distracted driving.”

Young drivers also need to realize early on in their driving journey that even typing a quick text on a cellphone or going through music files on an mp3 player can put one’s life in serious danger.

What may seem like a harmless action can have extremely dangerous consequences.

Drivers who text are “23 times more likely to be in a crash or near-crash event”, according to a study by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute.

But texting isn’t the only form of distracted driving. Although not banned in B.C., reading, writing, eating and putting on makeup are also forms of distractions.

When on the road, it is important for drivers to realize that they should be fully focussed on the task at hand – driving.

For new drivers, the ability to drive allows for a sense of freedom and independence. But it also comes with great responsibility.

In some Canadian provinces, distracted driving is leading to more deaths and collisions than even impaired driving, according to statistics.

In B.C., Graduated Licencing Program (GLP) drivers – those with the ‘N’ or the ‘L’ – are prohibited not just from using cellphones but also from using hands-free devices. If they break these conditions, they can face a fine and also receive three penalty points.

Furthermore, all B.C. drivers are restricted from using their electronic devices, even when at stoplights.

While multitasking might be acceptable in the work or school environment – which itself is a debated issue – the vehicle should be a multitask-free zone, as distracted driving can lead to slower reaction times, increased speed and inability to drive in designated lanes, according to studies.

In order to prevent themselves from checking their status updates or texts, young drivers can turn off their phone, put it in the trunk or safely pull over to the side of the road to use the electronic device, as recommended by ICBC.

Parents of young drivers should also reflect on their driving habits and become positive driving role models, by following rules and not being distracted.

While the B.C. government took a progressive step by enacting legislation that prohibits usage of electronic devices while driving, it is important to increase and emphasize awareness campaigns about the harms associated with distracted driving.

Earlier in 2013, for instance, Alberta’s government released attention-grabbing advertisements targeted at the younger population. Such campaigns could also be employed by British Columbia’s government, to reach younger drivers.

The risks of distracted driving are simply too great to ignore. Young drivers must keep those in mind when driving and realize that safety is the number one priority.

Text messages, phone calls, or status updates can wait.

Japreet Lehal writes monthly for Peace Arch News on youth issues.

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