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Vol.102 Issue 10


Dangers of being distracted in a connected world
[Bob Collins]

On June 1, the Motor Vehicle Act was amended to increase the penalties for the use of a hand held electronic device while operating a motor vehicle. The fine for a distracted driving violation ticket is now $368, four driver’s license penalty points, and a $175 ICBC Driver’s Penalty Point Premium. That’s a total of $543 for a first infraction. A second infraction within a year will add up to another $886.

These are hefty fines but the really scary numbers are out there on the roads and highways: 20% of BC drivers admit to using hand held electronic devices while driving; the visual awareness of a driver using a cell phone decreases by 50%, and 27% of all BC car crash fatalities involve distracted driving.

Distracted driving isn’t new and it is not the exclusive domain of drivers on cell phones. It used to be referred to as undue care and attention. I remember seeing a classic example of it on West Fourth Avenue in Vancouver in the summer of 1967 when a young man gazing sidelong at an especially attractive pedestrian drove his Impala into the rear end of a Mercury waiting to make a left turn. Fortunately, it all unfolded in slow motion and there were no serious injuries.

There will always be a certain number of daydreamers behind the wheel, absorbed in their thoughts and not paying proper attention to what they are doing, but it is hard to imagine that their numbers would come anywhere close to the 20% of drivers who admit to using electronic devices while they are driving. Some even profess to be good at it. Kind of like the intoxicated driver who believes that the alcohol in their system actually makes them more competent.

Of added concern is the total number of all drivers who have some sort of active device with them and are literally accidents waiting to happen. Cell phones and tablets are now ubiquitous. It is nearly impossible to be in any public space without being surrounded by people absorbed with a hand held something-or-other. Even if they’re not actively using, few seem able to resist the beep or chime that might announce another tweet from a millionaire sports celebrity or someone who liked their Facebook photo of yesterday’s lunch.

To be fair, it’s not all so mundane. There are endless examples of the business and professional benefits of the wireless world but you have to wonder at what point all of that connectedness crosses the line from practical to pointless. In the case of distracted drivers, it goes beyond pointless to outright dangerous.

Wireless distraction isn’t a phenomenon restricted to time spent behind the wheel of an automobile. It is a condition that can affect any human activity. Distracted pedestrians, distracted parents, distracted students, distracted employees -- the list is endless. Increasingly, people are leading distracted lives. Today’s children have been born into a wireless world and few of them will escape a distracted childhood. As memorable as the distracted driver I saw in Vancouver in are the six and seven year olds I witnessed this summer taking selfies of themselves on a playground slide. It seemed much too serious to count as play in the traditional sense of the word. There were no delighted squeals and the rush to climb back up and go again was replaced by silent examination of the content just created: the unbridled exuberance of playing on the slide replaced by the distraction of an image of themselves taking a picture of themselves sitting on the slide. Shared onto the internet, those images become a distraction for others.

As our world becomes increasingly wireless and connected, the same peril faces us all: the more connected, the more distracted. Eventually you cross the line from being distracted to being A distraction. For the kid’s sakes, we really should be aiming higher.

1 Oct 2016 Final.pdf