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Thursday, 30 October 2014

Distracted driving, road health and a celebration of a public health success

Ontario and BC took a step upward in addressing the epidemic of carnage on the road caused by distracted driving.  It was merely a handful of years ago when debates were being held on the safety of cell phone use while at the wheel, now texting has become the major culprit.

Humans will continue to invent technologies that modify health risk and in doing so will keep the public health workforce gainfully employed.

In typical fashion when threats are being first addressed, the statistics are sensationalistic and perhaps inflated, but the numbers promoted by the CAA are staggering culminating in the conclusion that driver distraction now contributes to 20-30% of motor vehicle collisions CAA distraction information page

That impressive number can be contextualized within the continuously decreasing number  and rate of fatalities and collisions on our roads, a real testament to the efforts of the road health/safety community. 

Where the disconcerting flaw in logic may arise is the impact imposed by aggressively increasing penalities where education and options have not been sufficiently explored.  Ontario’s new fines of up to $1000 for driving with a handheld device and BC has added demerit points to tickets associated with distracted driving.  Whether either will modify behaviours sufficiently remains to be seen. 

BC is no doubt celebrating in the wake of successfully addressing impaired driving through fines, suspensions and insurance costs and such success reinforces that enforcement can be a primary driver in behavioural change. Despite these progressive actions, speeds on BC highways have increased with many divided highways having limits of 120 km/hr – and the impact of such a move will need evaluation.

Both efforts are to be applauded, and other provinces should be encouraged to refine regulations to address more than cell phone use where such remains uniquely identified.  Distracted driving has been an offense for much longer, the change being that the definition now incorporates explicitly items such as handheld devices.

Our roads are becoming safer through the combined efforts of vehicle engineering, road design, driver training, enforcement, and public education.  Such a success is deserving of a public health high five.  

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