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Police across the country are on the lookout for drivers who are using a phone while driving. (dolgachov/Getty Images /iStockphoto)
Police across the country are on the lookout for drivers who are using a phone while driving. (dolgachov/Getty Images /iStockphoto)

Industry Expert

Driving was once a way to clear your mind Add to ...

Why all the fuss when it comes to distracted driving? I’m all for it.

Allow me to explain. A long time ago, people around the world would go for a drive to distract them from the troubles in their lives. For the process to be effective, they had to clear their minds. They had to just get in their cars and drive.

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If there was a destination or a task to complete, all the better. But ultimately it was a means to justify an end (or perhaps an end to justify being mean).

But I digress.

Clearing the mind enabled a driver to focus completely on one task: driving. The act of driving created distance for perspective. Meditation on wheels. You would be totally consumed by the need to safely navigate your route. It was exhilarating in body, and liberating in mind.

But we couldn’t leave well enough alone. My first cellphone came in a lunch-pail-sized bag that would plug into the cigarette lighter (that’s what it was called and what it was used for). It consumed five watts of power (a wattage that could now probably propel my Prius).

Then I upgraded to a flip phone and I bought a two-line texting device (yup, the first BlackBerry). I was Master and Commander of my mobile domain. You now know where this road is headed.

A study by the Virginia Transportation Technology Institute reveals that, on average, drivers’ eyes are off the road for 4.6 seconds when they send or receive text messages. At morning coffee-run speeds of 60 kilometres an hour, a car travels about 80 metres in that time span. It’s not hard to imagine why collisions and near collisions were 20.3 times greater while people were texting.

Other forms of distracted driving that increased collision risk by three to eight times included: cleaning a side mirror, rummaging through a grocery bag, looking at a map, opening a pill bottle, using or reaching for other electronic devices, personal grooming, reading a book, putting on/removing/adjusting glasses.

You can likely add some novel distractions to this list and understand why Ontario is proposing a three-demerit-point and $1,000 fine for cases of distracted driving.

Now, back to the future. Earlier this year Google unveiled its Open Automotive Alliance to work with several car manufacturers in the interdisciplinary field of vehicle telematics (think GPS, plus wireless communications, plus infotainment, plus computers, plus sensors, plus road safety).

As a tech-loving society, how will our driving culture continue to be affected by the seduction of always-on connectedness? I wonder what a distracted driving experiment would look like and I invite you to find out with me.

Angelo DiCicco is the general manager for the Greater Toronto Area at Young Drivers of Canada, which is hosting an event to combat distracted driving. Participants will identify risks posed by other drivers and they must respond with emergency manoeuvres. More information at www.yddistracteddriving.com.

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