Hang up or get off the road

It’s time for harsher consequences; Ontario’s cellphone ban too lenient for drivers

It’s time to hang up your phone or face the consequences.

In an effort to promote safety on the road, a provincewide ban on using cellphones while driving will come into effect on Oct. 26, 2009.

It seems like common sense not to use a cellphone while driving, in the same way that applying makeup or reading behind the wheel is seen as hazardous. Making calls or texting has even been equated with impaired driving, and yet the use of cellular devices in motor-vehiclesis considered routine and often overlooked.

In a generation where it’s considered a necessity to have and use a cellphone, it’s no surprise people between 18 and 34 seem to be strongly opposed to the new legislation. The Royal Bank of Canada conducted a survey of what Ontario’s population felt about the upcoming ban and 43 per cent of young adults were opposed to it. Fifteen per cent of cellphone users have already claimed the law won’t make them change their poor driving habits.

It would appear that in the urgent world of technology, the constant need for contact through the use of cellphones and other hand-held devices is more important than ensuring the safety of fellow human beings.

In an interview with the Globe and Mail, cognitive psychologist David Strayer said one’s chances of causing an accident increase four-fold when cellphone activity and driving intermingle. That’s the same as the likelihood of causing an accident while inebriated. Although an obvious majority would think twice before drinking and driving, the thought of texting or engaging in a phone call seems like a simple everyday task—one many people don’t believe to be dangerous.

This new legislation will make Ontario Canada’s fourth province to ban cell phone use while driving. The law will attempt to discourage the use of hand-held devices while driving by issuing fines ranging upwards of $500 to offending drivers.

But does Generation Text need to worry about the consequences? According to the Ministry of Transportation, tickets won’t actually be issued to distracted drivers until Feb. 1, 2010. For three months, unsafe drivers will simply be given a warning—that’s a mere slap on the wrist. This grace period completely undermines the purpose of the law.

Police officers don’t pull over impaired drivers simply to warn them it’s not a good idea to drink and drive and allow them to continue down their path of destruction. Statistically speaking, cell phone use while operating a motor vehicle makes the driver just as likely to cause an accident as one whose blood alcohol content exceeds the legal limit.

With cellphone use as dangerous as intoxication behind the wheel of a car, $500 is a small price to pay when thousands of people nationwide are injured or lose their lives to careless drivers. Impaired drivers are punished more harshly with higher fines, potential prison time and suspended licenses. Statistics have established the influence of alcohol and the use of cellphones carry an equal amount of risk while driving—thus the punishment for each offence should be comparable.

In an age where BlackBerrys, iPhones and other texting mechanisms reign supreme among young adults, the odds of texting decreasing in popularity are unlikely. As technology develops, the average person’s attention to their surroundings seems to regress. Simply observe the number of students on campus who narrowly avoid collisions with cars while crossing streets and who continually bump into passersby—all due to their relentless need to communicate.

The website for the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association reports the use of texting has increased by at least four times since 2005. Given this escalation, it stands to reason texting while driving will continue to rise too.

With the provincewide cellphone ban acting as more of a warning than a law, it seems there’s no end to accidents caused by distracted drivers in sight. Ontario’s new law is progress toward making the roads safer. But enough leniency toward those who decide to text and make phone calls while driving.

If promoting safe driving is truly the goal, then it’s time to implement harsher consequences for those who choose to disregard the well-being of others.

All final editorial decisions are made by the Editor(s)-in-Chief and/or the Managing Editor. Authors should not be contacted, targeted, or harassed under any circumstances. If you have any grievances with this article, please direct your comments to journal_editors@ams.queensu.ca.

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