Distracted driving dangers need to be addressed

"... Police Chief Jamie Graham suggested tougher rules to stop talking and texting but Attorney General Shirley Bond shot them down."

Every weekday morning there’s a familiar dance I do on my walk to work downtown. As I approach any intersection I wait for the light and then I do a little stutter step before I proceed at a regular pace once I’m 100 per cent sure any turning vehicles have spotted me.

Sounds simple enough except in these days of cellphones.

It used to be I just had to be wary of the odd guy trying to get a few bites out of his cheeseburger while navigating a turn with his free hand, which was usually cradling a large soft drink.

But people tend to be cautious while driving if they think some food is going to drip down their shirt.

On top of that I often noticed there was at least a sense of apprehension as they pulled into traffic.

Perhaps it’s my years of riding a motorcycle but I’m always looking for some type of eye contact with any turning vehicle just to make sure we both see each other.

That has translated into my daily walk to work. Too often when cars turn drivers watch more for traffic and the quick merge rather than watch for pedestrians.  That’s why I try to make sure drivers have some kind of visual contact with me before I step in front of their vehicle.

And that’s what scares me about cellphones.

Too often I’ve noticed drivers talking on their cellphones and simply staring right through whatever is in front of them.

A few of my near misses involved inattentive drivers but more often than not, it’s someone on a cellphone trying to carry on a conversation, merge into traffic and watch for pedestrians – in that order of importance.

I was even  berated by a driver you didn’t notice me while turning, slammed on the brakes, then looked up to see the “Don’t Walk” signal flashing.

Anyone who has tried crossing Victoria St., knows how quickly the sign switches from “Walk” to “Don’t Walk.” You would have to be Olympic 100m champion Usain Bolt to get across the intersection before the sign switches.

Nevertheless, I was guilty according to this vocal driver who never once gave thought that she just about ran me over. Oh yeah, I don’t think she ended her phone conversation either.

Just this week in my walks to work I’ve watched one person with their phone just below the steering well so they could carry on a conversation undetected. Another was oblivious to everyone else as they rolled through a right-hand turn on a red light that forced a car and a pedestrian, with the right of way, to stop to avoid a collision.

It’s almost a daily occurrence. And I’m not the only one who notices there’s a problem.

This week, Victoria Police Chief Jamie Graham suggested tougher rules to stop talking and texting but Attorney General Shirley Bond shot them down.

He said over 6,000 tickets were issued in the province in February.

The West Kootenay Traffic Services handed out 55 charges in the month while the Greater Trail force issued 15 tickets during a two-day blitz.

Graham, who is also the chair of the B.C. Association of Police Chiefs’ traffic safety committee, proposed taking the phone away for 24 hours for first offence and several days for repeat offences.

He also suggested fines should be doubled to line up with any other traffic safety violation.

The idea of increasing fines or seizing devices wouldn’t have the desired effect said Bond.

I guess the mere thought of taking away someone’s mobile device would constitute cruel and unusual punishment in today’s Tweetdom.

However, the government used that same strategy behind its vaunted drinking and driving laws which increased fines and gave police the power to seize devices, in this case your vehicle.

It didn’t bother the government that even wrongly-calibrated breathalyzers were allowing police to incorrectly enforce a law that can have serious consequences on the parties involved.

But somehow Bond sees it different when it comes to texting and driving. And in a politician’s wrong-headed view on simple things, which so often happens, she declined to do anything to stem the growing problem.

As usual governments tend to be reactive instead proactive so we’ll probably have to wait until some angry mothers take up the cause, as they did so well in fighting drinking and driving, or some high-profile accident makes it into the headlines before any changes will come.

Instead of seeing it as a threat to safety and welfare of other people on the highways, which they trumpet with their drinking and driving regulations, Bond likens the issue to seat belts.

“It’s not unlike seat belts,” Bond told reporters. “It took a long time for people in our province to make that a normal habit.”

For the record, West Kootenay Traffic Services also handed out 177 seat belt violations in February so maybe it’s Bond not getting the message.

The way I see it, you don’t wear your seat belt while driving then you’ll probably be the one getting hurt.

But if you talk on your phone while driving then I’ll probably be the one getting hurt.

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