Editorial — Crackdown on distracted drivers needed

A provincial crackdown on distracted driving by police during the month of February is a welcome step.

Police say statistics show that 30 per cent of traffic deaths are due to distracted drivers, with 37 per cent of serious injuries in crashes attributed to drivers not paying proper attention to the road.

These are staggering numbers and beg the question — why has so much effort been put into tightening up drinking and driving laws, and so little towards distracted drivers?

Drivers talking on cellphones or texting are the most commonly-distracted, but there are many reasons that drivers become distracted. Eating while driving can be a big distraction, as can driving with pets in the front seat. Children can at times distract drivers as well.

Police will be on the lookout for all kinds of distractions during February, and chances are they won’t have much trouble spotting some. Despite a law that is now three years old, which prohibits people from talking on hand-held phones while driving, it remains a very common practice. Sit at a major inersection for five to 10 minutes and watch drivers. It won’t be hard to spot a number of drivers on hand-held phones.

If people need to talk on their phones so badly while driving, they should be setting up a hands-free system in their vehicles. Yet many continue to ignore this option — and put their own lives, and those of others, at risk by their bad behaviour.

Part of the reason this problem persists may be the minimal fines. While police have issued almost 106,000 violations since January, 2010, the fine for using a hand-held phone while driving is just $167. Police say some drivers can be charged with driving without due care and attention and be fined $368, but both of these fine amounts pale in comparison to the penalties handed down to drivers who blow over .05 under the new drinking and driving rules.

It is obvious that lawmakers don’t take the issue of distracted driving too seriously. Perhaps it is because they haven’t found a way to tie the distracted driving laws so closely to victims. But there are no shortage of them, as the police figures show.

Members of the public need to take the issue seriously and pull over when making a call. At the same time, lawmakers need to consider if stiffer penalties for driving while distracted are needed.

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