How would you value the last phone call you made? Is it worth $172? A trip to the ER? A life?
The question seems ridiculous, but looking around at my fellow drivers, I feel it’s one we seriously need to ask.
We’ve all heard distracted driving is dangerous, but why? When the brain is focused on one attention-demanding task, like a conversation, it can miss other stimuli like red lights, other vehicles, cyclists, and pedestrians. This phenomenon is called inattention blindness, and it’s the reason multitasking is near impossible.
Here’s a simple demonstration: timing yourself, count from 1 to 10 as fast as possible. Then say the alphabet from A to J as fast as you can; each task should take you 2 or 3 seconds. Now say them together, alternating between the two: 1 A 2 B 3 C … up to 10 J.
It’s a lot harder, isn’t it? You probably notice your time increased significantly, as did your mistakes. These are very simple tasks, repeating patterns that were drilled into our heads as children. Now consider other multitasking activities, like driving while texting or talking on your phone. Much more complicated tasks, with much higher stakes.
And yet, distracted drivers in Alberta, if caught, are getting away with only a $172 fine. To compare, driving with a blood alcohol level of 0.08 results in criminal charges, vehicle seizure, and licence suspension, even though research shows that both impair drivers in similar ways. This also goes for hands-free devices, which are proving to be just as distracting, and yet are still legal.
As of August 1 2013, cellphone users behind the wheel in Manitoba will be hit not only with a $200 fine, but also with two demerits. This is definitely a step in the right direction, one Albertans should be pushing for.
Since 2009, members of Students for Cellphone-Free Driving have been presenting to high schools throughout Alberta, sharing facts and true stories of people affected by distracted driving. We have reached 12 000 students in over 30 communities around the province, hoping to spread awareness in young drivers before they develop dangerous habits. We facilitate discussions about how they can personally change their behaviour and ensure their minds are always on the road.
Some of us remember when drinking and driving was considered socially acceptable. Today, knowing the facts and the consequences, we scorn those who choose to drive impaired. And yet, distracted driving, with comparable dangers, is still considered acceptable. I ask again: what call is worth a life?
Alberta, it’s time to hear the message and hang up on distracted driving.
BA (Honours) English Candidate
Summer Program Coordinator – Students for Cellphone-Free Driving