Distracted and disastrous

Toyota Motor Co. recently launched a clever Don’t Shoot and Drive campaign. And it wasn’t a warning about wandering deer and moose on our highways. It has its sights trained on bigger — and far more dangerous — game: distracted drivers taking pictures of themselves on their cellphones.

Toyota Motor Co. recently launched a clever Don’t Shoot and Drive campaign. And it wasn’t a warning about wandering deer and moose on our highways.

It has its sights trained on bigger — and far more dangerous — game: distracted drivers taking pictures of themselves on their cellphones.

Social media on a rampage these days, and far too many people seem to think it’s important to advise other participants what they’re doing every moment of every day.

That now includes drivers snapping photos of themselves on their cellphones while on the road, and sending them out to acquaintances.

These “selfies,” says a U.S. report, have logged three million posts on Instagram tagged #driving.

Almost 50,000 have tagged #driving home, more than 9,000 tagged #drivingtowork, and more than 3,500 tagged #drivingselfie. The latter means they are driving on their own while snapping pictures of themselves.

Toyota’s campaign includes launching a poster showing a car totalled in a collision. At the bottom it reads: Don’t Shoot and Drive.

Alberta’s government says it’s mulling over tougher penalties for distracted driving — a practice now killing hundreds of people each year on Canadian roads. The toughening would amount to imposing demerit points against offending motorists. Right now, offending drivers on Alberta’s roads face a paltry fine of $172 but lose no demerit points.

Statistics rank distracted driving as one of the leading causes to carnage on our roads. Tough laws reflect society’s intolerance to drunk drivers, but they have yet to reflect the danger of killer distracted drivers.

And, obviously, the message has yet to sink in for many people playing with their phones.

Drunk driving is now a big deal, but it was an uphill battle. A similar battle is being waged against distracted driving.

Alberta Transportation Minister Ric McIver said last week that two years after the law was passed, drivers are still unwilling to hang up the phone while on the road.

McIver said the government is still “mulling over” other options besides demerit point suspensions.

It was reported earlier this year that distracted driving fatalities in Canada have risen by 17 per cent — surpassing the number of people killed by drunk drivers in some provinces.

CBC reported that “these figures don’t cover all jurisdictions and might underestimate the problem by as much as a third.”

Calgary police say that during the first eight months of this year, there were more than 470 crashes in that city related to distracted driving.

Last summer, Nova Scotia and Saskatchewan authorities rated distracted driving as the No. 1 road killer.

In Ontario, police say distracted driving has surpassed drunks killing people on the roads, and blame 30 per cent of highway crashes on distraction.

South of the border, distracted drivers killed 3,331 people in 2011, says the U.S. government, while 387,000 people were injured. Cellphone use was blamed in 21 per cent of those crashes.

And this trend of drivers snapping their photos to share with others is the epitome of negligence while behind the wheel of a vehicle.

Moving toward demerit suspensions should just be the starting point in Alberta. We need the kind of measures used to deal with drunk drivers: huge fines, licence suspensions and impounded vehicles.

Otherwise, the ignorance will continue to prevail on our roads.

Rick Zemanek is a retired Advocate editor.

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