CAA Niagara and Aapex Driving Academy host Distracted Driving DerbyItems like goggles, beach balls, confetti blasters and water guns may seem ideally suited for a beach party. They also, it turns out, make pretty good obstacles for a distracted driving derby.
Or at least they did on Wednesday when 20 prominent figures from Niagara participated in the event hosted by CAA Niagara in partnership with Aapex Driving Academy in the parking lot of the Pen Centre. Participants drove pedal carts through a figure-eight obstacle course while completing tasks dictated to them by CAA Niagara president Peter Van Hezewyk. Some of the tasks were similar to those people often do while driving their cars, such as applying makeup, texting on their cellphones, taking selfies and eating (in this case, a banana). Other tasks, however, were a bit more difficult in nature. Regional chair Alan Caslin, for instance, had to open a bottle and pour himself a glass of water while pedalling his way around the course, Grimsby Lincoln News reporter Luke Edwards had to open a map of Alberta and attempt to locate Banff and others were asked to put on goggles that simulate driving while impaired.
“It was actually super difficult with those goggles on, I felt like I was going to throw up,” said St. Catharines Coun. Matt Harris. “Your perception is totally off.”
Niagara Falls Coun. Mike Strange agreed, saying the distractions definitely made driving tough. The challenge, he said, helped to hammer home the point that drivers shouldn’t be driving while distracted.
“You don’t want to see drivers out there trying to do all of this, it makes it near impossible to drive safely,” he said.
Some people still haven’t gotten that message though, says Niagara regional police Insp. John Sawicki.
“Your one and only job should be making sure that the vehicle is being operated safely and while you might think that you can text and drive at the same time, events like this show you that you can’t,” he said. “Multi-tasking (behind the wheel) is very difficult to do. A phone call or text message, putting on your make up or eating that burger is not worth losing your life or someone else losing their life as well.”
Caslin said the simulation was an ideal way of being able to bring attention to distracted driving, something he agrees many still need to be educated on.
“It’s a real problem in our society and it’s causing a lot of unnecessary accidents,” he said.
The derby was something CAA Niagara has been working on for a few years. Rick Mauro, vice president marketing and public relations with CAA Niagara, said they wanted to create a safe and fun environment to demonstrate the dangers of distracted driving.
“It’s a lighthearted way for people to look at a very serious issue,” he said, adding that CAA both nationally and regionally, has been asking people to put down the phone and focus on the road for a number of years now. “With this event, we’re encouraging people to look at other distractions as well. We tend to pay attention to the phone distractions, but all of them — eating food, putting on makeup, looking at maps while you’re driving — all of those are equally as distracting.”
Twenty years ago, the big focus in terms of vehicle safety was encouraging drivers not to drink and drive. While that education piece continues, Christine Raby, CEO of Aapex Driving Academy, said distracted driving has become just as important to focus on and it’s something they try to educate young drivers about in their academy.
“It’s become such a big focus because many people don’t think twice about doing it,” she said.
Niagara Falls MPP Wayne Gates agreed, noting there’s a big need to educate the public about the dangers, and the politicians as well so they can properly advocate for their constituents.
“The No. 1 reason there are fatalities on Ontario roads today is distracted driving,” he said, adding it’s not just young people who are texting and driving. “Our seniors are getting very good at texting and driving as well, the whole make up of society has to be educated on not doing it.”
For some, the solution is simply removing the distraction. Wainfleet Mayor April Jeffs spends a lot of time in her vehicle travelling within her community to events, or to regional council meetings in other parts of Niagara. When she’s in the car, she leaves her phone in her purse and keeps it out of reach.
“I remove the distraction, we’re all tempted to check it but if I can’t get to it, I won’t have the option,” she said, adding that her hands-free calling system built into her vehicle is also a benefit.
“It just comes down to making the decision not to be distracted,” said Raby. “You have to realize that it’s your life on the line and you need to pay attention to what you’re doing, with both hands on the wheel.”