Roads Are Not Getting Safer – Part 2


Another phone-in on CBC Radio, specifically about distracted driving due to electronics. A caller was complaining about getting a ticket for using her hands-free phone while stopped at a red light. A motorcycle cop pulled up beside her, looked at her, and pulled her over. Why? Because she looked at her phone. She told him the phone was turned off, but he gave her the ticket anyway. Fair game, I suppose. How can he know it wasn’t on when she looked? So he showed her the instructions on how to protest the ticket and told her she’d probably get off. But he gave her the ticket. Her question was, “Why?”

Basically, here’s the problem. As I mentioned last week, using a look-and-touch device of any sort uses far more of our brainpower than we can afford and still drive safely. Government statistics say that using an electronic device can steal up to half of your visual information. It’s doubtful if even talking hands-free on your Bluetooth device is safe enough. And no, it’s not the same as talking to a person in the car, because the other guy in the car knows when to shut up. More data: perhaps 25% of crashes are caused by driver distraction. Probably more, because nobody admits to it.

Trash Them All

The bottom line is that if none of these devices is safe, then we need to ban them from use in cars. Before you go postal on that, remember that as recently as 10 years ago, most people couldn’t phone from their cars. Sure, it’s a nice perk, but it’s not necessary.

However, that idea isn’t likely to fly, so what should we do about it?

The Laws Aren’t Doing the Trick

Just so we’re all on the same page, here are the rules, condensed from the BC government website:

  1. Hands-Free Phone – You May Use It If:

It is not held or operated by the hand

It is voice-activated or requires only one touch in order to initiate, accept or end a call

It is securely fixed to the vehicle or worn securely on the person’s body

An earpiece can be worn in one ear only and must be placed in the ear prior to driving

  1. GPS – You May Use It If:

It is programmed before the person begins to drive

It can be programmed in a voice-activated manner

It must not be held in the hand

It is securely fixed to the motor vehicle

So the lady with the ticket was in double jeopardy: she looked at her phone, and it was lying on the seat beside her. My habit of leaving my phone in the cubby in front of the gearshift where the charging port is won’t fly, either. I foresee a dashboard mount in my Christmas stocking. We know “stopped at a light” has no traction. The law says, “safely parked.” Interpret that for yourself.

So with such stringent laws, why so many accidents (and getting worse)?


Our police forces are required to work on the penalty-vs-odds scale. If they can’t catch very many people, the penalty has to be more severe. So the rules are very specific, and the first offense is worth about $500 in fines and extra insurance cost. Governments like this sort of thing because it produces revenue, but it has limited prevention value. People assume they aren’t going to be caught.

The police are being forced into a “roadside jury” situation and they don’t want it, so they just give everybody a ticket and let the courts decide. I’m sure their hope is that the courts will get so jammed up with protests that the government will have to do something about it.

What to Do?

Well, I have a suggestion. Technology created the problem, let technology solve it. If the problem is people looking at their phones, then require everyone using a phone in a car to use a special app that turns off the screen before allowing the phone to work. If people looking at their GPS is a problem, make the dashboard mount necessary for the GPS to work. Not “required,” necessary for operation. I give Google another ten years before they try “Google Glasses” again, and this will all be a thing of the past, anyway. Then we’ll have a little speaker inserted under the skin behind our ears, and we won’t need to take our phones out of our pockets at all.

Technology and the laws that regulate it are always out of step. It’s up to government to manage the situation, and just upping the penalties is useless. And unfair. Rich people can afford the fines and the lawyers, so they don’t have to worry about the laws as much.









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