Brandon police conduct a checkstop on First Street North in October 2013. Despite a provincial ban that has been in effect since 2010, distracted driving has overtaken impaired driving as the top safety concern on our roads, according to CAA Manitoba.
Manitoba’s distracted driving ban turns four years old today, but Brandonites still don’t seem to be getting the message.
So far this year alone, the Brandon Police Service has issued 481 tickets for distracted driving, a number that has stayed consistent over the past few years, Sgt. Dallas Lockhart said.
"Distracted driving is a high-risk activity and it needs to stop," Lockhart said. "People can be out of communication for the time that they’re driving that vehicle.
"It is a two-tonne impact weapon in their hands and they have to be responsible for that."
CAA Manitoba’s distracted driving survey results were released yesterday, confirming Manitobans are in need of a wakeup call.
Of the more than 7,000 survey respondents, 99 per cent said they still see people talking or texting on their cellphone while driving, while 82.3 per cent said they felt it is unlikely distracted drivers will be caught by police — up two per cent from last year’s survey.
"Distracted driving has now overtaken impaired driving as the No. 1 safety concern on our roadways," Angèle Young, public and government affairs specialist for CAA Manitoba, said in a press release yesterday. "Nearly one-quarter of our members do not feel safe on our roads — something clearly needs to change."
When asked what would help deter drivers from using their hand-held devices while behind the wheel, 41.58 per cent of survey respondents said stiffer fines and/or demerits, 20.22 per cent said more police presence, 15.43 per cent said more public awareness, and 13.74 per cent said it needs to become less socially acceptable.
The province last upped its penalties for distracted driving last year when, in addition to a $200 fine, it began imposing two demerit points. Demerits also add to the cost of renewing drivers' licences and auto insurance costs.
Lockhart said he believes it’s society’s dependency on technology that keeps them from putting their phones away while driving.
"We’ve become more reliant, almost to the point of being addicted, to instant communication and people feel that it’s more important than paying attention while driving," he said. "Unfortunately, in many cases, that proves to be fatally wrong."
Picking out distracted drivers isn’t always easy for police, Lockhart admits, because they’re also trying to pay attention to the open road.
"We see a lot of people with their gazed fixed down towards their lap, which strongly suggests they may be texting while they’re stopped in traffic," he said.
"Unfortunately, we also see that behaviour in moving traffic."
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Raising your crash risk
Drivers who are engaged in the following distractions are more likely to be in a crash or near crash event when compared to non-distracted drivers:
• Text messaging (or texting) on a cellphone — 23 times more likely
• Reaching for a moving object — Nine times more likely
• Talking on a cellphone — Four to five times more likely
• Reading — Three times more likely
• Applying makeup — Three times more likely
• Dialling on a hand-held device — Three times more likely
• Talking or listening on a hand-held device — 1.3 times more likely
» CAA Manitoba
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition July 15, 2014