Some Drivers Continue to Ignore Distracted Driving Law.

Tomb of Camões in the Jerónimos Monastery, Belém, Lisbon. (Dr. Noorali Bharwani)
Tomb of Camões in the Jerónimos Monastery, Belém, Lisbon. (Dr. Noorali Bharwani)

In September, it will be four years since the distracted driving became a ticketable offence. But some drivers continue to ignore the law.

As of May 1 2015 the fine for breaking the distracted driving law is $287. If a driver is exhibiting more risky behaviour, they can be charged with driving carelessly and receive a fine of $402 and six demerit points.

Is that going to prevent people talking on the phone, drinking coffee and smoking a cigarette, sometimes all at the same time?

From my casual observation, I would say no because it is hard to enforce the law.

My impression is there are too many other things going on in the city to keep the law enforcement people busy. Distracted driving offence may not be high on the priority list. I may be wrong on this. It would be nice to see some statistics.

As we know, while driving, it is illegal to:

  1. Use a hand-held phone while talking, texting and/or e-mailing
  2. Operate electronic devices like video players and laptops
  3. Manually program GPS units or portable audio players
  4. Read or write
  5. Engage in personal grooming

Drivers are allowed to use hands-free mobile devices that are activated by a single touch or are voice activated, eat a snack, or drink a beverage while driving.

The law also says that members of the public can report a distracted driver to their local community station. The complainant must be able to identify the driver, vehicle and be willing to testify as a witness in court. I wonder how many people would have time to do that.

It is important to know there are some exceptions to this law:

  1. Emergency personnel such as fire rescue, EMS and police are exempt from using hand-held radio communications and electronic devices while performing their duties.
  2. Calling 911 in an emergency, or to report an impaired driver as part of the Curb the Danger program, is permitted while driving under the distracted driving law.

According CAA/AAA most drivers are distracted by outside object/person/event (29.9 per cent), adjusting radio/CD (11.4 per cent), other vehicle occupants (10.9 per cent), and something moving in the car (4.3 per cent). Other distractions are using another object/device, adjusting car’s climate controls, eating/drinking and using cell phones.

Statistics show that drivers engaged in text messaging on cellular phone are 23 times more likely to be involved in a crash. Driver distraction is a factor in about four million motor vehicle crashes in North America each year.

According to Alberta Transportation, international research shows that 20 to 30 per cent of all collisions involve driver distraction.

These indeed are grim statistics. There is more information on this subject on the internet and Alberta Government website. The question remains – is the law meant to be self-regulated or do we have enough manpower to enforce it? Have we made a dent in the tragic consequences of distracted driving?

We are into a holiday season and the weather is conducive and enticing to people who want to speed and break the law. Can we prevent that?

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Is it Safe for Pregnant Women to Drive?

A lonely tree at Police Point Park, Medicine Hat, Alberta. (Dr. Noorali Bharwani)
A lonely tree at Police Point Park, Medicine Hat, Alberta. (Dr. Noorali Bharwani)

I found an interesting article in the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ July 8, 2014) regarding the above subject. Dr. Donald Redelmeier and his colleagues author the research paper titled, “Pregnancy and the risk of traffic crash.”

When a woman is pregnant there are a number of changes occurring in the body. These changes may contribute to increased driving error. The authors of the CMAJ article compared the risk of a serious motor vehicle crash during the second trimester to the baseline risk before pregnancy.

The authors analyzed women who gave birth in Ontario between April 1, 2006, and March 31, 2011. Certain groups of women were excluded from the study. The primary outcome was a motor vehicle crash resulting in a visit to an emergency department.

After analyzing all the data from the study, the conclusion was that pregnancy is associated with a substantial risk of a serious motor vehicle crash during the second trimester. The authors further suggested that this risk merits attention for prenatal care.

In a commentary associated with the article under the title, “High risk of traffic crashes in pregnancy: Are there any explanations?” Stephen J. McCall, and Sohinee Bhattacharya say that the World Health Organization classifies maternal deaths due to traffic crashes as coincidental and not related to the state of pregnancy. Others have argued that pregnancy is the root cause of such deaths, because pregnant women are more susceptible to crashes.

McCall and Bhattacharya make the following key points in their CMAJ commentary:
-Normal physiologic changes during pregnancy may increase sleep deprivation and stress, which may increase the likelihood of human error.
-Epidemiologic studies have shown an increased risk of motor vehicle crashes among women in their second trimester of pregnancy; these studies should be interpreted with caution because data on duration and frequency of driving, and on shared responsibility for crashes, were lacking.
-Further research into the biological mechanisms that may link pregnancy to car crashes is warranted.

So, like many things in medicine the jury is still out debating whether we should allow pregnant women to drive, especially during second trimester. Suffice to say whether you are male or female, pregnant or not, just drive carefully.

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Be Safe, Do Not Drink and Drive

Alcoholic drink and car keys. (iStockphoto)
Alcoholic drink and car keys. (iStockphoto)

Drivers, here is a recipe for disaster: drugs, alcohol, not wearing a seat belt and speeding.

The highest rate of impaired driving is amongst young drivers aged 19 to 24. This accounts for 56 per cent of all reported criminal incidents.

The rate of impaired driving is at its worse at age 21 and relatively constant for 25 to 44 year olds. Seniors aged 65 years and older have the lowest rates. Statistics show impaired driving was a factor in almost 50 per cent of all incidents causing death.

Here are some other statistics:

-Every 22 minutes someone dies in an alcohol-related motor vehicle accident.

-There is a 200 per cent chance that you or someone in your family will either cause, or be an innocent victim to, a drunk driving accident.

-A lot of young people (15 to 24 ages) are dying before they get old. These are tragic, meaningless deaths.

-In a single year, 522 children under the age of 14 were arrested for driving while intoxicated, (113 of them were under 10 years old).

Driving under the influence of alcohol is the single risk factor for motor-vehicle-related incidents and injury. It is about time we crack down on irresponsible teenagers and adults who drink and drive. Alberta is now in tune with B.C., Ontario and six other provinces in passing laws which will lower the legal limit for blood-alcohol concentration from 0.08 to 0.05 per cent.

If you are caught drunk driving then you may pay a steep fine, lose your license and have your car impounded – all before you set foot in court. So, be warned.

The new legislation in Alberta soon after four teens were killed by an alleged drunk driver just south of Grande Prairie. A 21-year-old Grande Prairie, Alta., man was to face a slew of alcohol-related charges in a devastating crash that left four teens dead and one in serious condition. Matthew Deller, 16, Vincent Stover, 16, Walter Borden-Wilkens, 15, and Tanner Hildebrand, 15, all of Grande Prairie, were killed.
Speeding and not wearing a seat belt are other causes of fatalities on our roads. Again the majority of culprits are kids in their 20s or younger. Six months ago, citing a lack of evidence, cops in Calgary released a 21-year-old driver involved in a high-speed rollover that killed his younger brother and girlfriend.

The original charge included impaired driving. The crash happened shortly before midnight on a Sunday on Stoney Trail at McKnight Blvd. N.E. Two of the five people on board, the driver’s 16-year-old girlfriend and his 20-year-old brother, were not wearing seatbelts and were thrown from the car. They were taken to hospital where both later died.

Few months ago, the town of Magrath, Alta. was in mourning after four teens were killed in a horrific crash on a Sunday. The four – Clay Card, 16, Renzo Dainard, 16, Danae Gough, 14, and Jorden Miller 14 – were in a vehicle that left the road east of Magrath, about 240 km southwest of Calgary, landing upside down and partially submerged in a creek. According to the local Mounties, speed and driver inexperience probably caused the crash.

The holiday season is here. Drinking and partying is part of the Christmas and New Year celebrations. If you drink then don’t drive. If the party is in a hotel then book a room and stay there. Otherwise, take a cab or have somebody (who is not drinking) to drive you home. Wear a seat belt and do not speed.

Have a wonderful, safe Christmas and holiday season and Happy New Year. This column will return in January, 2012.

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