Something in Manitoba is not right. If you’re driving in that province, you are likely to encounter – let’s hope in a non-lethal way – a driver texting away on his or her smartphone. The Canadian Automobile Association has published the results of its fourth annual survey. Virtually all of the 7,000 respondents reported seeing other people using phones while driving, and most believe that the offenders won’t be caught.
There’s some vagueness here – just because 99 per cent of people claim to see drivers on the phone does not mean that 99% of drivers are on the phone – but it does point up that Manitoba has a distracted driving problem.
And the problem is tricky and tenacious. It involves an activity that is utterly harmless anywhere else – sending a text or making a call. Because of this, otherwise responsible people, ones who would never think of drinking and driving, for example, are prone to pull out their Samsungs and scan an incoming text on the road.
One of these people was Mahmud Ali, a mechanic and otherwise law-abiding man who injured a number of people in Winnepeg when his van sailed through a red light in the summer of 2012. He was convicted of dangerous driving.
What’s to be done? Will the example of one driver convicted and imprisoned make a difference? Would more convictions deter others? The CAA members’ suggested solutions, in order of popularity, are:
- Higher fines and/or license demerits
- More police presence
- More education on the dangers of distracted driving
- Just waiting — distracted driving will become less socially acceptable over time, much as not wearing seat belts has
Police are frankly mystified as to why Manitobans are still engaging in this dangerous practice. A year ago the province enacted stiff penalties for using handheld phones while driving: $200 plus two demerits. Perhaps the penalties will have to be increased for Manitobans to get the message: you cannot drive and use a phone at the same time.