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Texting and driving is an ever-increasing problem
Texting and driving is an ever-increasing problem
Posted on 10/13/2017
Are tough penalties a deterrent? 
By Christine Peets  
According to the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP), Ontario has some of the stiffest penalties in Canada for drivers who choose to use their hand-held cell phones or other mobile devices or engage in other activity that distracts them while driving. And yet, texting and driving is an increasing problem. Are the tough penalties a deterrent? 
Dr. Christine Wickens, an in-house expert on distracted driving at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) doesn't seem to think so. In an article published on the CAMH website states, "Dr. Wickens believes that despite all the public education about the dangers of distracted driving, and the recent introduction of stricter new laws, many Ontarians are still not getting the message." The article quotes Wickens:  
“When we talk about the history of drinking and driving, decades ago that was still considered socially acceptable to a point. There certainly wasn’t the same kind of social disapproval there is today. But has that translated yet to texting and driving? No I don’t think so. One group we really worry about are younger drivers who report much higher use of cell phones for texting purposes and social media. Certainly amongst younger drivers, we’re not getting to that level of social disapproval for this kind of behaviour.”  
Carleton Place resident Johanna Button has a different take on the social disapproval of texting and driving among young drivers. She frequently drives from Carleton Place to Ottawa, where she attends Carleton University.   She said that among her friends, no one uses their phone while they are driving, and they all watch out for each other to not be texting behind the wheel.  
"I think there is more awareness about this among my friends, and if your friends heard that you got a $300 fine for texting and driving, they'd pay attention," Button said. "We also notice the bumper stickers that people have on their cars to "Stop Texting", and if more people see those, then they are going to pay attention to that."  
Texting and driving, or other forms of distracted driving, which include reading from a screen, watching a video, eating or drinking, personal grooming, adjusting music selections or having music playing too loudly, or turning to talk to someone in the back seat, are all subject to fines, demerit points, licence suspensions, and possible jail terms, depending on the conviction. Yet, drivers are constantly exhibiting these risky behaviours.  
Novice drivers who are still under the Graduated Licensing System are subject to escalating sanctions that could lead to them being removed from that system, meaning that they will not become fully licensed drivers. PC Greg Streng, a Community Service Officer (CSO) with Lanark County OPP welcomes the chance to discuss these issues with the public. 
"CSOs are often invited into schools or community centres to present this information about distracted driving, especially texting and driving, and welcome opportunities to engage with the public," Streng said.  
In the past five years, there have been a number of assemblies at high schools in the Upper Canada District School Board (UCDSB). In March 2012 students at North Dundas District High School were given orange thumb rings that said "Texting kills" after signing pledge strips not to text and drive. The strips were formed into a "chain of life" that was hung in the school cafeteria. There were also presentations done by Ontario Students Against Impaired Driving (OSAID). Distracted driving is considered by many to be as dangerous, if not more dangerous than driving while impaired under the influence of alcohol or drugs.  
A similar talk was given in April 2012 at Athens District High School by Constable Luc Poirier, an Accident Reconstruction specialist with the OPP. He explained the process used to determine causes of accidents, and he focused on the dangers of texting and driving. At the time Poirier was also the parent of an OSAID member, which made the presentation a little more relevant for the students.  
Button remembers some of those presentations being done at her high school, but said that she thinks more teens and young adults pay more attention to Twitter, so messages on social media are more likely to have an impact.  "If kids see those messages on Twitter, they may pay attention, and share them, so that more people get the message about how dangerous it is to text and drive," she said. "But it still goes on, although there are some new messages coming out on Snapchat, because so many people are snapping and driving. So there is a Snapchat app that has a way of knowing how fast you are going, but it can't tell whether you are the passenger or driver. Still, you get a message that says, "Don't Snap and Drive." 
Johanna's father Ross thinks that it is very progressive for a media site to take on that social responsibility. He also thinks that parents have to take responsibility and be good role models for their kids when it comes to distracted driving.  
"How are parents using their phones?" he asked. "Are they putting away the phone when they're driving? Are they sending messages to their kids when they know the kids might be driving? If you know someone is driving, then don't send that text. We all need to be good citizens about this." 
Parents could also watch one of the many videos about texting and driving like this one, and then talk to their kids.  
Johanna said that everyone just needs to ignore their phone when they are driving. Better still, she suggested, turn off the ringer so you don't even hear it. Then you won't be tempted to answer right away.  
"Whether it's drinking and driving, or texting and driving, it's all dangerous driving," Ross Button said. "We all have a responsibility to make sure we are paying attention to our driving." 
"Yeah, you don't want to have an accident over a stupid text," Johanna added.  
Christine Peets is the Writer in Residence for the Upper Canada District School Board Parent Involvement Committee. (UCDSB-PIC)
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