Hump Day: Cell phone use while driving: a dangerous form of narcissism

Hump DayHump Day
By Brian Cormier
Wednesday, July 17, 2013
Moncton Times & Transcript
Editorial section

If we’re going to have rules and regulations about certain things in society, then great! I’m all for them when they make sense. Unfortunately, there are some highly touted laws that are being made a public mockery by those who break them and by those who implement them but don’t provide the resources to enforce them.

Case in point: distracted driving laws. I don’t know about you, but this has got to be the most ignored law in the entire province. Every day, I see several drivers chatting away on their cellphones while negotiating through traffic, stopped at lights, etc. I’ve even called out a few by beeping my horn and pointing to my ear to let them know they’ve been caught talking on the telephone while driving.

The narcissists usually give me the middle-finger salute or just scream unheard obscenities from behind their closed vehicle windows. I haven’t done this very often, but it never went well when I did. Finally, I just gave up. Let them get into an accident and kill someone. What am I supposed to do about it? I can’t save the world.

Why the term “narcissists”? Because they somehow believe that their telephone conversation is so important that putting the lives of others at risk is worth it. I beg to differ. There are very affordable devices that use Bluetooth technology and that fit into your ear to allow you to answer a cellphone without having to be distracted. Often, it’s just the touch of a button in the earpiece and you’re connected. There are other hands-free devices available that attach to your visor. They work perfectly well.

Many new vehicles even have Bluetooth technology built in to their dashboards. I recently bought a new vehicle and it was the first thing I looked for! Now, whenever my cellphone rings while I’m in the car, I answer with the touch of a button on the steering wheel. No hassle and no more distracting than changing the station on your radio or talking to a passenger.

From my own unscientific research (translation: using my own eyes) I’ve come to the conclusion that the distracted driving law is being almost universally ignored to the extent where it might as well not even be on the books.

If enforcement resources aren’t available, I understand. We have budgets within which we must live. I get it. In that case, you have to make the fines dramatically larger in order to make it very scary if you’re caught. Currently in New Brunswick, the fine is $172.50 and you lose three points (out of 10) on your driver’s licence. In Newfoundland and Labrador and Prince Edward Island, a first offence can cost you up to $400.

Here’s my idea. New Brunswick’s provincial budget is in the tank. We have a huge deficit. Budget cuts are the norm. And since very few (in my completely unscientific but I believe completely accurate survey) are following the distracted driving law, it’s time to put a dent in our deficit. It’s time to make people pay through the nose. We need to get tough on these fines.

If you’re caught talking on your hand-held cellphone while you’re driving in New Brunswick, the fine should be $1,000 and you lose half the points on your licence right then and there. Not only that, you must attend a mandatory day-long awareness session within 14 days of your fine or your licence is suspended. Going away on vacation or a business trip and can’t make it? Tough. Lose your licence. Awww heck — and why not publish the names of perpetrators in the newspaper at the same time?

Insurance companies should also take note of these offences and hike the insurance rates of offenders. You want more profits? This is a way to do it in a way that may even be quite popular with the public. Besides, it’s only a matter of time before Chatty Cheryl and Talking Tommy get into an accident that will cost you big bucks.

Drivers who deliberately and shamelessly talk on their handheld devices or text message while operating a vehicle aren’t much different than someone who’s had too many drinks. At least if you’re drunk, you’re probably watching the road. It’s impossible to text message someone or compose and send an email while you’re driving while keeping your eyes on the road. A convicted distracted driver should pay significantly higher insurance rates if their risk level increases because they can’t stop texting while driving or talking to their friend about the latest episode of Here Comes Honey Boo Boo.

Not only would we raise more money as a province, but we’d also take care of that enforcement problem. The fact is, the pain isn’t big enough for people to stop. They’re willing to take the chance. The punishment isn’t harsh enough. You’ll take the risk for $172.50 and three points. But will you take the risk for $1,000 (minimum), five points off your licence and a day’s lost wages (sorry, no weekend sessions!) to attend an awareness session? (And yes, there’ll be a test. And yes, you need to pass.)

The current punishments aren’t working. They’re too low. We aren’t scaring enough people into putting down their hand-held cellphones in favour of much safer Bluetooth technology.

It’s time to get serious about this folks. Drivers are ignoring this law en masse. It’s ridiculous and it’s time to bring the hammer down by making offenders pay big time through huge fines, more points off their licence and a mandatory awareness session that will inconvenience them and annoy them – and hopefully teach them a lesson.

2 Responses to Hump Day: Cell phone use while driving: a dangerous form of narcissism

  1. Love it. Well said….and while you are at it, why not get on board regarding all the idiot bike drivers with no helmets riding on the side walks or in the “bike lanes” going in the wrong direction. We need more members on our police force or even more volunteers to help with these situations.

    Enjoy your columns, Brian. Thanks.

  2. Hi Brian, good post. As an ex-Maritimer I enjoy reading your stuff. I personally think that no cellphone engagement, bluetooth or handheld, should be allowed while driving. It’s an awful distraction and I can’t imagine what is so important it can’t wait until someone has a chance to pull over and give the caller their full undivided attention.