By Patricia Gordon (2013)
If one wants to see many examples of distracted drivers, then one only has to cross the intersection at 2nd Street and 6th Avenue SW in downtown Calgary, or sit at the back of the No. 10 Calgary transit bus as it travels along 6th Avenue. I cannot count the number of times drivers, while talking on their cellphone, have ignored the pedestrians’ right of way and have almost hit myself or another pedestrian. I’ve often considered the possibility that if it is not lung failure or a heart attack that results in my passing, then it might be a distracted driver. Figuratively speaking, sometimes I feel like a cat with nine lives – that’s how common these near misses have occurred.
From my observations, I became particularly aware of two distracted driver types - the caller and the texter. I also became attentive to the fact I did not witness any distracted drivers on my way to work; rather, these incidents always occurred just after 5:00pm as I began my travel home like so many other downtown commuters. Such observations led me to presume drivers were either calling / texting their family or friends to check on their kids, or to make evening arrangements. Still, I found myself wondering why they didn’t simply connect from their workplace prior to heading home, or while sitting in their car in the parking lot.
The drivers I witnessed using their cellphones while driving were not young adults in their 20s, but rather people in their 40s, 50s, and even a man in his 60s. The offenders were not gender specific, but they were people I would normally expect to have the wisdom of mature adults; yet there they were breaking the law and having no regard for the safety of those around them. The texters, on the other hand, were always women in their 20s. Does this mean women text more than men? I confess, I am not sure of the significance of this observation except I was surprised young women, rather than men, were more willing to break the law and risk causing injury or death to others.
Several years ago, the bus I had taken from the University of Calgary was stuck in traffic, and like most passengers I had become impatient with the snail’s pace commute home. It was not until the next day that I learned a child and her mother had been struck by a vehicle in an unmarked crossing. It was suspected the driver had been talking on her cellphone. Sadly, the young child succumbed to her injuries; she never had the chance to grow up. The Alberta Motor Association (AMA) denotes that driver distraction accounts for 20 – 30 % of all collisions, and that 100 deaths and 5,000 injuries annually can be directly linked to driver distraction.[i] These deaths were completely preventable.
In addition to a zero tolerance towards distracted drivers by the Calgary police, I would hope the business sector and post-secondary institutions alike collectively engage with their employees or students in supporting all efforts to discourage this illegal habit in the same manner drunk driving is entrenched in our society as unacceptable behaviour. Prior to making or answering that call or texting, drivers seriously need to consider that playing Russian roulette with other people’s lives not only destroys the lives of the victim’s family, but their wrongdoing will also be devastating to their family too.
[i]“Did You Know?” Alberta Motor Association (AMA), n.d. Web.