A New Kind of Distracted Driver

Edited by Admin
A New Kind of Distracted Driver

A New Kind of Dangerous Driver


In recent years, police have seen a dramatic rise in distracted driving and aggressive driving. These two driving practices now cause more accidents than impaired driving, and have made Canadian roads much less safe. Some driving experts believe that the two behaviours are linked, and that our country is now producing a new type of driver: one who is entitled, risk-taking, willing to flout laws -- and extremely dangerous.


Driven to Distraction


We’ve all seen the texting driver in the lane beside us at a stoplight. Although this is not legal, many drivers feel that they can get away with it while their vehicles are not technically in motion. But police are seeing more and more instances of drivers texting while travelling at high speeds down the highway, or while navigating through an intersection. Younger drivers, having grown up with smartphones, are especially prone to feeling capable of this sort of “multi-tasking”, often with tragic results.


Smartphones also make phone calls an option for drivers. Who hasn’t taken a taxi ride where the driver carries on a loud conversation for the entire trip? It’s a cliché because it happens so often! While hands-free devices do allow drivers to converse while keeping their eyes on the road and hands on the wheel, studies show that it’s the mental distraction of carrying on a conversation that causes the greater danger. If you are having a heated argument or a complex discussion with someone on the phone, your attention will not be where it should be: on driving.


In addition to texting and calling, electronic devices also pose distraction through the use of navigational aids like GPS, or traffic apps like Waze. Rather than stopping to program these, drivers often try to type in addresses on the fly, even though most know that even a few seconds of distraction can lead to a serious accident. To compound the problem, sometimes pedestrians, too, are distracted by devices, and therefore are not paying attention to traffic when they should.


There are, of course, other distractions. An RCMP officer stationed in rural Alberta said he stopped drivers for brushing their teeth, applying makeup, and even reading a novel while driving. Eating is another problem: the same officer once stopped someone eating a waffle with a knife and fork while driving down the highway.


Self-Centred Driving


While distracted driving has been on the rise for the past ten years, another trend has experts almost as worried. Driving, of course, requires cooperation, and at least a modicum of courtesy. But driver trainers, police, and emergency personnel have noticed a sharp uptick in the number of drivers on the road who drive aggressively, refuse to pull over for ambulances or firetrucks, tailgate, or cut off other drivers. While road rage is not new (there was a law against “furious driving” in ancient Rome), many experts have observed a marked increase in these types of drivers.


How drivers behave is influenced by many different factors: a combination of education, laws, societal cues, technology, personality, and more. Some people believe that some of the disconnect between driver behaviour and known safe practices comes from the design of the vehicles themselves. In past decades, many drivers had cars with stick shifts. It’s much less possible to be distracted when driving a manual transmission vehicle, since you need to focus on what your car is doing in order to keep it running properly. But today, very few cars are built with manual transmissions. In addition, so many cars on the road now are large, climate-controlled SUV-type vehicles, which can make drivers feel invulnerable and cut off from their surroundings. This can lead them to take more risks than other drivers.


Another factor in aggressive driving may be increased traffic, particularly in Toronto and the GTA. People who encounter traffic jams on their way to work or appointments often try to “make up” time once traffic starts flowing more freely, leading to speeding, dangerous lane changes, or refusal to let others merge.


Still others see the rise in narcissistic and impatient driving as a sign of our times and the erosion of community in our society. When the individual is emphasized over the good of the whole, the result is often selfish behaviour on the part of individuals. Unfortunately, our roadways and streets require that we work together in order for safety to prevail.


Experts hope that greater public education about these two problems can help the next generation of drivers learn to navigate our roads more safely. Meanwhile, we must all strive to keep our attention where it belongs, and to remember that we all share the roads. Distracted driving is not a choice anyone should be making - it’s a matter of life and death.