Death by typing

Published on July 11, 2014
Cellphone use while driving is a serious problem.
Telegram file photo illustration

Imagine a commercial airline pilot text messaging his or her sweetheart as the plane descends to 5,000 feet.
“Gotta land this sucker. Duck! LOL — c u soon”

It’s like a scene from one of the “Airplane” parodies.

Yet countless drivers see nothing wrong with sticking their noses into cellphones as their vehicles careen down a highway or navigate city traffic.

The numbers have been coming in for years now, and they paint a grave picture. Distracted driving — especially the use of cellphones — is proving to be deadlier than drunk driving.

In 2013, for example, the Ontario Provincial Police reported the number of deadly collisions involving distracted driving was higher than either impaired or speed-related fatalities.

Seventy-eight people were killed in distracted driving collisions, compared to 57 impaired deaths and 44 speed-related ones.

Distracted driving campaigns are everywhere, and many are in your face. YouTube videos graphically depict the carnage that can result from one carefree text from the driver’s seat. The dangers are taught in schools, on billboards, on television.

You’d think the message would be getting through — until you read this from The Canadian Press:

“The 2013 Ontario Student Drug Use and Health Survey found that more than one-third of licenced Ontario students in Grades 10 to 12 … reported having texted while driving at least once in the past year.”

Ironically, the number of students who drink and drive has decreased considerably over the past two decades. But teens (and adults) still seem to see nothing hazardous about typing on a miniature keyboard while they’re behind the wheel.

Any use of a cellphone while driving is hazardous — even hands-free use — but the practice of texting is most alarming.

According to the Canadian Automobile Association, distractions such as dialing a phone, talking on a phone or applying makeup can increase your risk of an accident by a factor of anywhere from three to five.

Texting? You are 23 times more likely to be in a collision. Part of the problem may be that so many young people live in a digital bubble these days. The Ontario report also picked up some surprising statistics on social media use.

The survey found more than 80 per cent of students visit social media sites daily, with about one in 10 wasting a whopping five hours or more a day at it. One in five teens said they play video games daily or almost daily. Males are almost four times as likely to spend time gaming than are females.

Newfoundland and Labrador has the longest experience legislating against distracted driving, having first implemented fines in April 2003. But nowhere in Canada do the fines exceed $400 (Newfoundland and P.E.I.)

Clearly it’s time to up the ante. This behaviour is no more excusable than barrelling down the road swigging from a bottle of whisky.

Heftier fines and even jail time are long overdue.