Pay attention to diverse driver distractions

Fines for distracted driving in Ontario nearly doubled from $155 to $280 last month, and now new proposed provincial legislation could see penalties as high as three demerit points and $1,000.

Think about distracted driving and you will most likely think about drivers who text or talk on their cellphones behind the wheel. Much attention is given to this form of driver distraction, as it should be – drivers who use cellphones are four times more likely to be in a collision than a driver who is focused on the road. A texting driver increases the chances of being in a collision by 23 times!

But distraction is anything that takes the driver’s attention away from the road, which reduces the driver’s awareness, decision-making abilities, reaction times and/or performance. The four categories of driver distraction are visual, auditory, manual and cognitive, as outlined in a study by the Governor’s Highway Safety Association. It quickly becomes apparent that the use of personal communication devices behind the wheel is merely a sliver of the whole distracted driving picture.

What else can be distracting? While not necessarily covered under the proposed distracted driving legislation, there are an infinite number of things that will try to compete for your attention – these include eating, personal grooming, pets in the vehicle, reading billboards, talking to passengers, looking at a collision scene as you pass by, changing the radio station and daydreaming.

While it isn't possible to eliminate ALL distractions, it is possible to manage them and to have a safety-focused attitude that keeps your attention intentionally on the road. Help yourself stay focused: put your cellphone in your bag in the backseat before your get behind the wheel, so you won't be tempted to check it. Adjust the radio before you start driving. Leave the pets at home. Speak up if you are a passenger and the driver is distracted. Talk about the importance of safe driving with your loved ones.

Are higher fines the ultimate solution for getting people to focus on the road? No. A recent poll by the Toronto Sun asked “Do you think higher fines and demerit points will stop drivers from using their handheld cellphones?” A full 60 per cent responded “No.”

Penalties need to be enforced to matter, and getting people to change behaviours takes time and education. We can’t wait for legislation to force us to be safer drivers. Think about and change your unsafe driving habits today – because the potential for harm if you don’t is simply far too great.  

Safety. It’s an attitude.