“My biggest fear is that someone I love will be in a horrific, life-changing, potentially fatal car accident.”

Texting & driving

Lauren Kramer, Driveway

Lauren Kramer, Driveway

by Lauren Kramer

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My kids have my permission to yell at their dad whenever they spot him using his cell phone while driving.

Which, unfortunately, is often. I’ve coached them on what to say: “You’re putting my safety at risk,” “You’re breaking the law,” and “Dad, put your phone away this minute!”

I’m not alone when I say my biggest fear is that someone I love will be in a horrific, life-changing, potentially fatal car accident. And every time a driver picks up their phone while operating a car, that accident becomes increasingly likely.

We’re all doing it, but we know we shouldn’t.

Sneaking peeks at our cell phones while we’re driving has become an irresistible temptation as more and more of us become addicted to checking email, responding to texts and answering calls whenever they come in – and no matter what is going on around us.

It’s easy to rationalize. “This will just take a second,” we think, exaggerating the amount of time it takes to, say, respond to a text message. According to the Canadian Automobile Association the average distraction time for this task is 22.6 seconds, the distance of 373 metres of travel at 40 km/h and the equivalent of four intersections or 68 parked cars.

But it’s not just the texting time that’s so perilous, it’s the time it will take you to regain your focus on the road, to bring your car to a standstill if you have to. Perception, reaction and braking time after a distraction like this – even something as minor as hitting two letters to type “OK” – is 25 metres, the equivalent of a lineup of 17 people.

That’s a long time when you’re controlling a powerful, hunk of metal like a car.

The truth is that cell phones have become every much as dangerous an addiction when driving as inebriation – even more so because they lack the ugly stigma associated with drunk driving. Yet the probability of being in a crash while you are distracted is horrifying. Texting, even just a word? You are 23 times more likely to crash. Talking on your cell phone – four-to-five times more likely. And reading that ‘urgent’ email that simply couldn’t wait makes you three times more likely to be in a potentially fatal accident, according to research by CAA.

Findings by ICBC show that distracted driving is the second leading contributing factor of vehicle fatalities in BC. That’s why, October 20, new penalties for distracted drivers were implemented in this province. If you are caught with your cell phone in hand or programming your GPS while driving, you’ll get a $167 fine and a deduction of three penalty points. It’s a rap on the knuckles but also a reminder to fight our addiction to electronic devices while we’re driving.

Because the fact is, for even the best drivers, it’s impossible to safely split your attention while you’re driving. Don’t be fooled if you’ve been lucky thus far, because driving while distracted and not crashing or causing an accident has more to do with luck than competence. And seriously, why wait for luck to run out?

Overcoming that cell phone addiction on the road is as easy as turning off your phone and putting it in the glove box or trunk of your car, where you absolutely cannot reach it while you are driving. That’s what instructors at Mercedes Benz Driving Academy insist their students do when they step into a car. Yes, I know, you are expecting an important call so you don’t want your phone off. In that case, Bluetooth or wired headsets (worn only in one ear unless you are on a motorbike) are the next best thing.

But the key is to make sure your phone is out of reach, because when it is within stretching distance, it’s a pinging candy bar most of us can’t refuse.

Contact: laurenkramer [at] shaw [dot] ca

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