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Drivers won't put the brakes on cell use

Survey sparks call for stiffer penalties

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A CAA Manitoba survey found 99 per cent of respondents see people on their phones while driving.

NAM Y. HUH / THE ASSOCIATED PRESS FILES Enlarge Image

A CAA Manitoba survey found 99 per cent of respondents see people on their phones while driving.

It has become obvious the threat of killing somebody -- even themselves -- isn't a big enough deterrent to keep many Manitobans from texting or talking while behind the wheel.

Now CAA members are proposing something even more horrifying -- bigger fines.

The fourth annual survey on distracted driving found 99 per cent of the more than 7,000 members who participated said they still see people on their phones while driving. Another solid majority, 82 per cent, believe it's unlikely the offending drivers will be caught by police.

"The message isn't getting through," said Angèle Young, public and government affairs specialist with CAA Manitoba. "It took a while for not using seatbelts and drunk driving to become unacceptable, but distracted driving hasn't hit that level yet. If you don't think you're going to get caught, what's going to stop you?"

The biggest hope, according to 42 per cent of CAA members, lies with higher fines and/or demerits on your licence. The next three most popular answers were more police presence (20 per cent), more education on the dangers and impact of distracted driving (15 per cent) and time to pass so it becomes less socially acceptable (14 per cent).

Brian Smiley, spokesman for Manitoba Public Insurance, said statistics show about one-quarter of roadway fatalities in the provinces are related to distracted driving.

The lack of law-abiding citizens is one of the reasons why it has partnered with police on enforcement campaigns directly related to texters and talkers.

"Unfortunately, some driver behaviours are very difficult to change. It's not an overnight fix. It requires a few factors: education, awareness and law enforcement. When you combine all three, that will encourage drivers to change," he said.

The survey's findings came as no surprise to two groups that see the results of distracted driving first-hand -- the RCMP and Winnipeg police officers.

"It's a major concern for us," said Tara Seel, media relations officer with the RCMP. "We've had the message out there and it's something that has been talked about a lot, but people are still talking on their phones while they're driving or doing other things, like eating, being distracted by their pets or putting on makeup."

She said it's a mystery why the message isn't getting through.

"That's the million-dollar question. For a lot of people, they say, 'I'm a really good driver, I'm just going to look down for a second.' But the road is unpredictable. You never know what another driver will do or if wildlife will jump out in front of you," she said.

"Even if you have your phone on the dash and you get a ding (for a message), your eyes are taken off the road and you never know what could be around the corner."

Const. Jason Michalyshen of the Winnipeg Police Service said something "really serious" has to happen in order for some people to clue in.

"We don't want that to be the case. We want people to hear us and think about the potential negative impact," he said.

He said it only takes a split second to look down at your phone to respond to a text, which is enough time for disaster to strike.

"More than likely, the texts people are receiving aren't that important anyway. And if they are, pull over, park legally and respond then," he said.

Peel said many RCMP officers have difficulty upon arriving at a crash site and seeing the wreckage could have been prevented.

"We need drivers to make smart decisions before they get behind the wheel and while they're behind the wheel," she said.

geoff.kirbyson@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 15, 2014 B3

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