Distracted driving can be deadly. A Montreal man found out the hard way when he lost a loved one, and has since written a series of heartwrenching text messages urging drivers in Canada to keep their eyes on the road, not on their cellphones.
Mathieu Fortin’s girlfriend was killed in a crash on Jan. 18 while the two were texting love messages back and forth. Emy Brochu’s last text message was “I love you too and I will do all I can to make you happy, Mr. Fortin.”
Sometime later, Brochu slammed into the back of a tractor-trailer truck as it merged with traffic near Victoriaville, Que.
“The police investigation showed the use of a cellphone while driving was the cause of the accident,” Fortin wrote on a Facebook page he’s created in memory of his girlfriend.
His painful circumstances beg the question: “What does it take for motorists to get the message?”
Frustrated authorities are asking the same. Despite laws in several provinces banning the use of cellphones while driving, hundreds of errant drivers are refusing to hang up — risking their lives and the lives of others on the road.
Red Deer City RCMP, for example, issued more than 500 tickets in the first four months last year after the distracted driving laws in Alberta came into effect on Sept. 1. Drivers just aren’t getting it, said Sgt. Bob Bell of the city’s traffic enforcement division.
“It’s been one of those things where we are looking for something else like wearing a seatbelt and we find somebody talking on their cellphone,” said Bell.
Most tickets, which carry a $172 fine in Alberta, were handed out for cellphone use but city RCMP also ticketed a few motorists with pets riding on their laps or for putting on makeup.
There have been many incidents reported in Alberta where cellphone use has contributed to vehicle crashes — some of them deadly.
A few years ago, a Central Alberta man was killed while talking to a friend on a cellphone. He was driving down a rural gravel road. His last words were: “Holy —t!” and the line went dead. The motorist apparently lost control and was found dead sometime later. His vehicle left the road and crashed in a ditch.
Near Hythe, a woman was killed after her truck became stuck due to icy roads. She was standing on the highway with her back to oncoming traffic while talking on a cellphone, oblivious to a pickup truck bearing down on her. The driver of the other truck tried honking at the woman, but failed to get her attention.
She was killed.
In St. Albert, a 17-year-old girl was charged after hitting a man at a crosswalk, breaking his leg. Police allege the teen didn’t see the man because she was busy texting.
Even authorities who should know better have been ticketed. Recently in Vancouver, a police officer learned his lesson. Deputy Chief Warren Lemcke was making a work-related call when he collided with a vehicle that came to an abrupt stop in front of him. Nobody was injured.
Fortin’s love of his life was so not so fortunate. He said on his Facebook site that reading his girlfriend’s last words to him shattered his heart “into a million pieces.”
“At what time is a text or an email more important than life itself? At what point is something on your phone more important than the people that you love?” Fortin asked.
One of his final messages to her was he wanted to “hear her beautiful voice” again.
Hopefully, Fortin’s courageous message in memory of his girlfriend on Facebook will open the eyes of habitual cellphone abusers.
Rick Zemanek is an Advocate editor.