Impaired driving: whose funeral will it be?

Martha Muzychka
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Scanning the news after the weekend, I’m reminded there are many times when simply reading the news headlines these days requires patience and fortitude.

Bishop Desmond Tutu’s observation that the media’s headlines are God’s to-do list notwithstanding, it is still unnerving to read about issues that are preventable or modifiable.

The weekend headline that police had picked up no fewer than six drivers for drunk driving on the weekend, including three involved in collisions, both astounded and enraged me.

Let’s think a little about this. The average car weighs about two tonnes, or 4,000 pounds, while the average pickup weighs about three tonnes. That’s a lot of heavy metal to be driving with compromised abilities.

Despite ongoing education campaigns by groups such as Mothers Against Drunk Drivers (MADD) and increasing spot checks by police on long weekends, drivers behaving badly are a continuing trend.

In fact, recent reports show that drunk driving has been joined, and in some cases has been surpassed, by distracted driving as a leading cause of accidents. Transport Canada data shows that over a four-year period, there’s been a 17 per cent increase in fatal crashes where distracted driving is identified as the cause.

We have had a lot of chatter about cellphone use while driving, and quite a few jurisdictions, including this province, have introduced legislation making cellphone use while driving illegal. However, while hands-free options have reduced the fiddle factor, there is research to support any phone use while driving is a serious distraction.

Like drunk driving, though, we may not have a true picture of the effect distracted driving has on drivers. Researchers suspect this data is under-reported by as much as a third. It isn’t always clear whether drink, phone use, texting, or even fishing around for a CD or one’s purse/briefcase is a cause. One education campaign in Ontario focuses on all the ways a driver can be distracted, including reading a newspaper, applying makeup, or reaching for toys to soothe an upset child.

What we do know: depending on the area, between 30 to 80 per cent of collisions are the result of distracted driving. In Nova Scotia and Saskatchewan, distracted driving is now the No. 1 cause of vehicular accidents. In Ontario, distracted driving has passed drunk driving as a cause, but speed is still the No. 1 factor for collisions.

In this province, driving is a way of life. People take to the road for travel, for work and for leisure. Sometimes we can delay our road travel if the weather is poor, but if you have to go to work, not going in is not an option.

And yet, on every bad weather day, we are bound to read, hear or watch a report on how someone somewhere has been injured or killed, frequently because the drivers have not reduced their speed to account for weather and road conditions. Given the research, we can also suspect that distracted driving may also be a factor in these events.

When I first learned to drive, my driving instructors and my parents impressed upon me the need to respect the machine for which I was now responsible. As this weekend’s headlines show, there are quite a few people who have forgotten the power of the vehicle they are driving.

Not infrequently, I have been heard to mutter when seeing a particularly spectacular example of bad driving, “it’s your funeral, buddy.”  

These days, I’m more likely to add, “just don’t take me with you.”

Because the statistics are clear: the funeral that is likely to result may be yours or mine as the collateral damage of drunk and distracted driving increases.

Martha Muzychka is a writer and consultant living and driving in St. John’s. Email: socialnotes@gmail.com.

Organizations: MADD, Transport Canada

Geographic location: Ontario, Nova Scotia, Saskatchewan

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  • Cashin Delaney
    October 22, 2013 - 14:24

    Correction: "Mothers Against Drunk Drivers (MADD)" , it is actually Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD). In 1984, MADD changed its name from Mothers Against Drunk Drivers to Mothers Against Drunk Driving. This carefully considered change was made because MADD is opposed to the criminal act of drunk driving, not individuals.

  • david
    October 22, 2013 - 10:36

    Drinking and driving in Newfoundland is not so much a crime as it is an everyday lifestyle. Forget the TV ads, the speakers at schools, the alcohol-free graduation parties.....it's all a complete waste of time and money. We've been at that for 3 or 4 decades....nadda. Lock 'em up, fine the snot out of them, take their licenses away for good. When you're dealing with people who just aren't bright enough to figure it out, the only thing you can do is lay the hammer to them.