The symbolism was perhaps a bit heavy handed, but the message was crystal clear.
In the continuing effort by police to convince drivers that texting or talking on cellphones while behind the wheel can be disastrous, Toronto police put a hearse into service as an unmarked vehicle on Feb. 21.
The grim visual, part of a weeklong effort to combat distracted driving in the city, was intended to convey the message to motorists that using mobile hand-held devices could land you or someone else in that sombre vehicle, so common to funeral processions.
If the approach seems dramatic, it’s important to point out that authorities are fighting an uphill battle when it comes to ending distracted driving, as they are with impaired driving, despite decades of powerful messaging and RIDE campaigns.
Last year, police observed the phenomenon become even more common than drunk driving. By the end of August last year, there were 38 distracted-driving deaths, compared to 19 impaired-related fatalities. Overall, 2016 saw 309 traffic fatalities on OPP-patrolled roads, up from 301 the year before, and distracted driving was one of the main causes.
In Ontario, texting, talking into a hand-held mobile device, even eating while driving, can result in a fine between $490 and $1,000, plus the loss of three demerit points. A ticket can also result in a $200 or more uptick on your insurance bill. Distracted driving has been illegal in this province since 2009.
Insurance Bureau of Canada statistics show that a driver is 23 times more likely to be involved in a collision if texting while driving and four times more likely if talking on a cellphone. Eighty per cent of collisions involve some sort of driver inattention.
But drivers continue to do it.
A Canadian Automobile Association survey, conducted late last year, revealed that 33 per cent of Canadians admit to texting at red lights.
If stiffer penalties are what’s required (Transport Minister Marc Garneau is calling for national standards on fines) then they should be implemented. We can’t allow distracted drivers to continue to make our roads more dangerous.