Calgary police spread message about dangers of driving while distracted

IMG 8346 thumbCalgary police are planning a distracted driving crackdown in Calgary starting Nov. 25 to Dec. 1.

"We are planning on... doing a little blitz. Our main focus will be looking for distracted driving," Lebedeff says. "Anyone in a uniform in a marked or unmarked car will be focused on looking for distracted driving."

Officers will also be dressed in everyday clothing while on the lookout for violators.

Tickets will be issued to anyone breaking the distracted driving law, which includes:IMG 8350 resizeOne of Ford’s vehicles that was supposed to be involved in the demonstration was hit by a distracted driver that morning on its way to Henry Wise Wood Senior High School.

Photo by Roxanne Blackwell

• Texting
• Emailing
• Using hand-held phones
• Cameras
• Video games
• GPS
• Reading
• Writing
• Drawing
• Grooming

Police statistics show that as of September, officers have handed out 5,387 distracted driving tickets — 11 per cent more than in September 2012.

"I've witnessed people driving 120 km/h down Deerfoot Trail, hands at 10 and two on the wheel, texting away," Lebedeff says. "You may as well just close your eyes for 10 seconds while you're driving because things can happen in a heartbeat that you can not undo.

Education and prevention

Although there hasn't been an increase in accidents in Calgary due to distracted driving, Lebedeff says it's important to educate the public with a focus on prevention.

"Yes it's a $172 fine, but the bigger picture is we don't want you to kill somebody, hurt somebody or yourself," Lebedeff says.

Police tried to get that message out to students on Nov. 5. At Henry Wise Wood Senior High School, a driving course was set up in the parking lot to put students' skills to the test — while distracted. For drivers, distractions included loud passengers, blaring music, and of course sending text messages — hashtags and all.

Lebedeff says that although the demonstration was targeting students this time, the hope was that teens would then spread the message to their parents, who are also often guilty of distracted driving.

Reporter's Experience

During my own experience on the distracted driving course, I ran over a cone while texting and was unaware until the instructor informed me.

In the few brief seconds that I took my eyes off the road, I had run something over and not noticed. Luckily it was just a cone, but on a real road it could have meant drifting into another car, running over an animal or child.

Earlier this year, I was in a fender bender after reaching down quickly to change the song on my phone that I had plugged in. I was lucky as there was no damage to either car, but you would think that it would have been a wake up call to pay more attention to the road.

My habits didn’t change until a few months later when I was the one who was hit by a distracted driver. It wasn’t until I was a victim that I realized the dangers of distracted driving.

It’s now four months later, and I’m still dealing with whiplash-related injuries.

While my vehicle was being repaired, I was given a new SUV as a rental,and was impressed with the way my phone synced up seamlessly to the vehicle. The system could have even prevented my first accident, as it would have allowed me to keep my eyes on the road.

"You have that cell phone go off in your vehicle and your automatic reaction is to grab it," Lebedeff says, "So before people start dying and getting injured on our highways, we want to get the message out there that this is a very dangerous thing."

The stats

An August survey of 1,056 Canadian teens and parents, conducted by Leger for the car company Ford, suggests that 93 per cent of teens and 97 per cent of parents admit to distracted driving even though they know it's dangerous.

Grade 12 student Brent Carmichael was one of the first students to take a crack at the driving course, and although he says he does his best to stay off his phone while driving, he is not completely innocent when it comes to checking a "quick text" at a red light.

Carmichael says that when he first got his license two years ago, all of his attention was on the road, but he's noticed that as young drivers gain experience they tend to lose focus.

The survey found that 71 per cent of new drivers followed all the rules of road, and less than half of the drivers aged 18 and 19 reported doing the same.

"As we all get more comfortable behind the wheel, we get used to using our phones more and getting the music a bit louder. (The course) is a good idea especially for the students who have had their licenses for a few years," Carmichael says.

He says he feels the course was a good reminder for him to continue to keep the phone out of reach while driving.

Hands-free communication debatable

Universal Ford representatives were on hand at the demonstration to explain some of Ford's new hands-free technologies that allow drivers to communicate on their phones safely as well as legally and, more importantly, keep their attention on the road.

"It's designed to get the phone out of people's hands," says Ford representative Bryce Harrison.

Even so, there is some research to suggest using hands-free devices isn't necessarily safe.

Earlier this year, a study for the American Automobile Association found that drivers using hands-free devices had delayed reaction times and reduced visual attention. The association is lobbying for the disabling of voice-to-text technology while a vehicle is in motion.

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