Leave the phone alone: new signs to increase driver awareness
By Angela Long
Published July 7 2016
In the wake of disturbing new statistics, police throughout Ontario are gathering forces to spread a new message: “Leave the Phone Alone.” Distracted driving, which includes the use of handheld devices while driving and the use of in-vehicle entertainment systems visible to the driver, is on the rise.
According to the OPP, 3,574 collisions on OPP patrolled roadways were caused by distracted driving last year, an amount nearly five times higher than alcohol-related collisions. While speed continues to remain the main cause of all collisions, distracted driving is the leading cause of fatal collisions. Quite simply, distracted driving kills.
Haliburton Highlands OPP Staff Sergeant Brian Crisp knows these statistics well. For this reason, the OPP and County of Haliburton officials have collaborated to reduce the number of incidents, improve road safety and educate drivers. As of last week, 50 signs have been strategically placed at the beginning of every county road providing a visual reminder to leave your phone alone.
The problem, writes Crisp in an email, is that many drivers “make the mistake of over-estimating their driving skills,” believing the dangers of texting and talking on their phones while driving only applies to poor drivers.
Several years ago, the U.S. Department of Transportation launched an aggressive campaign against distracted driving, calling it a “dangerous epidemic on America’s roadways.” Studies by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration show that texting for just five seconds while driving 90 kilometres per hour is the equivalent of driving blind for the length of a football field. Seventy-seven per cent of teen drivers are confident they can text and drive safely. However, a 2013 study by the Cohen Children’s Medical Center in New York concluded that texting while driving had surpassed drinking and driving as the No. 1 cause of teenage deaths.
Crisp fears we are now experiencing an epidemic similar to the U.S.
“We know that enforcement is not enough,” he writes.” We need to use effective educational tools that aim to change perceptions.”
Distracted driving isn’t about skill, Crisp stresses. Its dangers apply to everyone.
And so do the fines. The fine for distracted driving rose to $490 in September 2015, and three demerit points.
Exceptions to the law include calling 9-1-1, and two-way CB radios. Also, while in the line of duty, police, emergency medical services personnel and firefighters may use hand-held devices and view display screens.