Distracted driving: a reporter’s attempt at navigating the perils

WHITE ROCK — We’re all guilty of it, including myself.

Picking up your cell phone to answer that call or text while driving. It’s only a couple of seconds of your attention, right?

Wrong. On Tuesday (Sept. 16) at White Rock Christian Academy, I took part in a media event supporting ICBC’s distracted driving campaign. Surrey RCMP members put me in a simulator that tested my driving skills by throwing a few curve balls into the mix.

To friends and family who know me, being assigned this story is a bit ironic. Many can attest to the fact that when I hit the road, I’m always changing the FM station, adjusting the A/C or yapping to whoever is beside me.

My first attempt at the simulator was short-lived. My "passenger" got in and thanked me for giving him a ride. After taking off from the parked position, I approached the first stop sign, looked left and right, and proceeded ahead. Three seconds later, a dog jumped in front of the car and my foot immediately hit the brake. Unfortunately, the pooch did not survive. I can still hear the howls in my head.

The next stop sign had a pedestrian walking out in front. Everything seemed fine until my passenger asked me to call his boss to tell him he was going to be late. I started dialing, but remained stopped.

"You have to go, you’re holding up traffic," said ICBC’s Karen Klein, as she stood behind me watching.

After dialing the number on the screen, I realized I had turned the wrong way. Whoops, game over.

The second attempt was just as bad. I got all the way to the stop sign and the pedestrian, managing to call the boss and turn the right way this time. The passenger then insisted I text. As you can imagine, that did not pan out well. I bumped into a couple of vehicles, which prompted "Major Crash" to flash on the screen.

I realized a third attempt was not needed because there was no way I was going to win. And realistically, neither will you.

According to ICBC’s Karen Klein, distracted driving has moved up to the second-leading cause of fatal crashes in B.C., right behind speed and ahead of drunk driving.

"About 88 people a year are dying as a result of distracted driving. You’re four times more likely to crash if you’re on the phone," she said. "Leave the phone alone because no call or text is that important to risk your life."

RCMP Sgt. Dale Carr added Mounties are starting to see a trend in the right direction, but there’s still a lot of work to do.

"It’s like back in the ’70s and early ’80s when we had to push drivers to wear seatbelts. It takes a lot of education and reinforcement," he said. "But that’s exactly what we’re doing here today."

You always hear the slogan, "If you’re going to use your phone, pull over." But Carr wants to send a friendly reminder that you can’t just stop anywhere.

"We’re noticing people are deciding to pull over on 152nd Street when it’s a no stopping zone. That in itself is a whole separate issue," he said. "You have to do it in a safe location."

Klein said another misconception drivers have is looking down at their cell while stopped at a red light. "You’re still in control of your vehicle. It’s still on and you can still be ticketed."

Personally, the whole experience was an eye opener. I have no interest in causing an accident, being fined $167 or having three demerit points added to my record.

That text and phone call – it can wait.

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