Pique'n yer interest 

Slightly safer roads

It was only a matter of time before B.C. introduced legislation to curb cell phone use for drivers, as most jurisdictions in Canada already have laws in the books against this form of "distracted driving." The ban includes texting and the use of all portable electronic devices including music players- one click to turn a device on is all you're allowed, so you better have your playlists sorted ahead of time.

The new law doesn't encompass hands-free phones unless you're a learner or novice driver, and in that sense some experts say it doesn't go far enough.

I always point people towards a 2006 study that found driving drunk was actually safer than driving while talking on a cell phone, whether that phone was hands-free or not. The jury is still out on why hands-free phone use is more dangerous than talking to someone in the passenger seat, but studies have found that we use a different part of our brain to drive than we do to speak on a phone, and that our attention is always divided when trying to hold a conversation with someone in a different place. As well, one U.S. study suggested that hands-free phones can foster a false sense of enhanced safety when the driver is actually in a higher-risk state.

Other recent studies show that texting while driving is one of the most dangerous activities of all, that texters are 26 times more likely to have an accident than the average driver. Your reaction time is decreased about 35 per cent, which is insane when you think about how quickly you need to react to situations on the road.

This latest rule change comes almost one year after the province changed the Motor Vehicle Act to require the use of in-car breathalyzers and key lock systems for anyone convicted of an impaired driving offence, to be installed at the owner's expense

I welcome these new laws and would welcome a blanket ban in the future that includes hands-free phones, hamburgers and coffee for that matter.

Far too many people - 400 on average - are killed on B.C. roads and highways every year, and thousands more are injured. Every single one of those accidents is a senseless waste, and almost all are caused by human error.

I have always recognized that personal vehicles are nothing more than a form of transportation, an easy way to get from A to B. Yet far too many people still find the act of driving empowering or liberating, or get off on speed and the thrill of weaving in and out of cars. Too many people look at the maximum speed limit as the minimum, too few follow at safe distances, while still other drivers refuse to acknowledge the rights or comfort of other drivers, or even use basic common sense. Too many drivers are impatient, oblivious or just in a rush; too many see the car ahead of them as an obstacle.

In my opinion we could probably use a few more laws to protect ourselves from our worst inclinations:

• Bring back photo radar immediately. Although there are legitimate concerns about accuracy and accountability many studies have shown that photo radar slows average speeds down and makes roads safer.

• Ban HID headlights from all vehicles. Driving our mountain highways at night is challenging enough, but add some rain and a pair of oncoming HID lights - those blue-white lights that started appearing on our roads around five years ago - and you are effectively blinded. Believe it or not these lights are illegal in most vehicles, although kits are widely available. Also, there should be actual fog before drivers should be allowed to switch on their fog lights.

• Use more photo/radar technology to catch red light runners, tailgaters and other offenders.

• Require the installation of vehicle black boxes to allow the police to more easily determine fault in the seconds leading up to accidents.

• Bring in a three strikes rule where people repeatedly caught for excessive speeding or other dangerous driving behaviours over a defined period of time would automatically forfeit their licence for three months to a year.

• Institute bigger ICBC discounts for people who take and pass recognized defensive driving programs.

• Require people driving vehicles that weigh over 5,000 pounds to take an additional licensing certification when getting their plate tags, informing and testing drivers on issues like safe braking and safe following distances.

• Increase the budget for highway traffic enforcement. I feel any increase in staffing costs would be easily offset by having safer roads. Calling fire departments, police, ambulances, air ambulances, tow trucks and other responders to crash sites is expensive.

The province is on a roll when it comes to road safety. Let's keep it going.



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