Just over a year ago (January 1, 2010) laws banning driving and using hand-held electronic communication devices (ECD) came into effect in British Columbia. Following a one month grace period to allow drivers time to change their habits and acquire hands-free devices, the police began issuing $167 fines and three penalty points to drivers caught “holding, operating, communicating or watching the screen of a handheld electronic communication device” while driving.
The “banned while driving” devices include hand-held cell phones, personal digital assistants, other hand-held electronic devices that process or compute data, hand-held audio players including iPods and MP3 players, GPS Navigation Systems, hand microphones, and television screens. During the year, the RCMP issued 32,000 tickets across the province for infractions of the new laws, and tallied 45 of the 104 driving fatalities that occurred in the BC jurisdictions they police as caused by distracted driving. Of this number, an RCMP spokesperson said this was “a very high number of fatalities for the 2.5 million people who live here.”
At the one-year anniversary of these new rules, and to motivate all drivers to redouble their compliance efforts, the police announced that during February 2011 they were “cracking down.” They reminded drivers that, “distractions also include activities such as eating, drinking and even putting on makeup.” They emphasized that text messaging may be the most distracting activity of all.
Despite the new laws and vigorous enforcement efforts, this driving topic is far from settled. For one thing safety advocates have argued and continue to say that the handheld qualification is a distraction from the real issue. Raynald Marchand of the Canada Safety Council has been quoted as saying: “The problem is the degree of the distraction, whether it’s hand-held or hands-free. Hands-free is not distraction-free.” Safety advocates worry this stopping-short approach gives drivers a “false sense of security”.
Bloggers continue to ask why the old careless driving or ‘driving without due car and attention’ laws weren’t sufficient, and write lists of other distracting activities taunting “the nanny state” to take these on too. And letter-to-the-editor writers continue to rail against all the scofflaws they see. A typical person-on-the-street interviewee usually says he or she sees people driving and talking on their hand-held cell phone “all the time.”
A recent Angus Reid Public Opinion poll of 1,010 Canadians about support for a federal ban on the use of hand-held cell phones while driving showed 83 per cent of Canadians supporting such a ban. BC respondents, however, were the least supportive at only 74 per cent. A Canadian Automobile Survey published at the end of 2010 found that CAA members concerns about the dangers of texting and emailing while driving have inched past concerns about drinking and driving: the former ranked as a very serious threat by 88% of respondents; the latter ranked as a very serious threat by 83%.
In response, Jeff Walker, the CAA’s public affairs vice-president said, “Legislation alone will not solve the issue. Enforcement, along with public awareness and education is required. It is a matter of society making the practice of texting while driving socially unacceptable.”