I was driving back from Toronto on the 401 after the recent snowstorm, when I asked my wife, who was riding with me what she was doing. She was watching something on YouTube and asked me if I wanted to see it. I told her “no” because I had to concentrate on the road due to the poor driving conditions. Had the road conditions not been so poor, would I have looked at that video while driving? Probably. If we were all honest about our own driving habits, we would have to admit that sometime or another and possibly on many occasions, we have all done it – distracted driving.
Every day I see people speaking on their cell phones while driving cars. This is despite the fact that I know the vehicles they are driving have Bluetooth capability. People still hold cell phones to their ears and talk, while leaving only one hand on the steering wheel. The vehicle that I am now driving has a touch screen system that forces you to take your eyes off of the road and onto the screen in order to push the button you want. No car that I’m aware of allows you to control all the systems in the car (e.g. temperature) without taking your eyes off the road.
Being a personal injury lawyer, I have seen the devastating effects of distracted driving. One case that immediately comes to mind is a young woman who was in an accident and ended up with a catastrophic brain injury. When cross-examining the Defendant driver, he admitted that he was looking down to change a song on his iPhone and had taken his eyes off the road for about ten seconds. He didn’t see the light change to red or my client starting to cross the roadway. She was struck before the Defendant driver had the chance to apply his brakes, resulting in an injury that rendered her unable to work and in need of services for the rest of her life.
Perhaps the worst case of distracted driving I saw was when I was driving in Detroit a couple of years ago. I witnessed somebody who duct taped a small TV to their dashboard, so they could watch TV while driving.
If we look at the statistics coming out, and think about them, we should all pause before we do things that will distract us from the safe operation of a motor vehicle.
Since distracted driving laws were first introduced in 2009, the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) have reported that driver inattention related road deaths are double the number of deaths from impaired driving. We have long known that distracted driving is becoming a huge factor in causing motor vehicle accidents, but the recent statistics are sounding alarm bells. Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) may well have to indicate that their acronym should also stand for Mothers Against Distracted Driving.
The question is what can you do to try to cut down on distracted driving? Obviously, the first thing is to not be distracted in your driving. Even with modern technology in cars, such as hands free, speaking on the phone is still a distraction because it does not allow your brain to concentrate 100% on the roadway. We are clearly not going to give up speaking on our phones, but we may want to think about what conversations we are having on our phones. Perhaps, the majority should be best left to when we are not operating a motor vehicle. If you are into a very detailed conversation, or a lengthy conversation, or one where you were in a dispute with the person on the other end of the line, it is probably best to leave that call until you are out of a motor vehicle. Again, if we are truthful, we all know that there are certain phone calls where we are spending more of our brain power on dealing with the person on the other end of the phone, than we may be spending on the roadway itself.
Another huge thing that we can do is to not be a passenger of a distracted driver. We need to tell our family, friends and ourselves, that when we are in a car as a passenger with a distracted driver, we are putting our lives at risk. People need to speak up and insist that the driver focus on the road and not on other things that they may be doing inside the motor vehicle, whether that is talking on a phone, texting, looking for radio stations, or any other distracting activity.
Most of us would probably acknowledge that we would not get into a vehicle with a person who was clearly impaired because we know the dangers of getting into a car with a drunk driver. However, if somebody pulled up to pick us up and they were talking on the phone, without using a hands free system, I suspect that most of us would get in that car and continue as a passenger, while the driver spoke with one hand on the phone and the other on the steering wheel.
As indicated above, distracted driving can take many forms. It has always been very interesting to me that on highways like the 401, they have the facilities where you can pull into a McDonald’s or Tim Horton’s drive-thru, where you can get food or drinks and continue driving down the highway. Again, let’s be honest. How many of us have eaten while operating a motor vehicle?
The statistics are quite alarming. They show that as far back as 2013, one person is injured in a distracted driving collision every half hour. One wonders, in fact, how many people are in collisions where distracted driving is the cause but goes unreported. Statistics also show that a driver using a phone is four times more likely to crash, than a driver focused on the roadway.
Despite ongoing campaigns against drunk driving, we all know that people still get into a car when their ability to operate a motor vehicle is impaired by alcohol. Likewise, I suspect that we are not going to stop everyone from being a distracted driver despite our efforts. However, we can significantly reduce the number of accidents from distracted driving and the number of injuries or deaths that result, if we start avoiding being a distracted driver ourselves and to try to pass that message on to others. It is really only through education that we are going to be able to curtail what seems to be an epidemic of distracted driving.
You may think that phone call or other activity is important, but it is not worth your life or the life of a loved one or somebody else.