In both Canada and the United States, the relatively recent laws controlling the use of electronic communications devices while driving are enacted on a province-by-province, state-by-state basis. All Canadian provinces and territories now have such laws; this past week, Oklahoma was the latest to join 45 other US states and Washington DC in enacting such laws, effective in that state in November 2015.
‘Cellphone driving’ and ‘texting-while-driving’ laws are provincial or state-based rules, and there are enough differences to make generalizing about them difficult. Some states, for example, ban texting while driving without banning talking on a hand held cell phone while driving. Fines and penalties vary from province to province and state to state.
That said, however, certain generalizations about this relatively new area of driving safety are emerging as useful guides for every driver whatever provincial or state borders he or she is driving within or crossing. The foremost is that, beyond cell phone talking or texting, any distracted driving behaviour increases the risk for crashing: eating, drinking, reading, hairdressing, applying make-up, selecting music, radio-tuning, child-minding, pet-minding, conversing, etc.
And yet the allure of ‘your car’ as ‘your road castle’, your living room or dining room or office or entertainment centre on four wheels is more than an irresistible phantasmagoria. Car designers and manufacturers have purposefully designed and marketed your vehicle to provide this extra ‘functionality’. It takes vigilance to stay focused on what should be every driver’s number one goal: to pay attention to the road.
Driving while talking on a cell phone or texting is, however, proving to be amongst the riskiest distracted driving behaviours. There are many reasons for this. Young drivers are inexperienced drivers but habitual cell phone users. Habitual behaviours are hard to control. Driving inexperience can translate into miscalculations of speed and distance travelled. Reportedly, studies show that cellphone talking and texting take the ‘longest mind/eyes-off-the-road time of all distracted driving activities.’
We are also told that studies show that five seconds is the minimal time in which texting and driving distracts from road focus. In five seconds, at 88.5 kph (55 mph), a vehicle travels the length of a football field.
The important distinction in the laws as they are currently written between hands-free and hand-held usage is not substantiated in the “studies”. Either way, talking on the phone takes your mind off the road.
Enforcement of these new laws is difficult and, even though when surveyed, most drivers say texting and driving is socially unacceptable, more than 20 percent also admit to doing it anyway. Most people would say both behaviours are prevalent.
Most people expect no legal consequences for non-compliance. Real consequences, can, however, be horrific beyond wildest imagining. Hence the need, not to worry about mastering the details of the rules but rather to remember this simple general rule: Don’t ever text while driving, even when stopped at a stoplight. If you must use your phone, to comply with the laws in the majority of jurisdictions use it ‘hands-free’ and be brief.