Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Youth vs. Experience

A regular feature that asks a college senior and a senior citizen to debate an issue of the day. This week, Alma Barkman threw out the first salvo

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'Cash grab' drives me to distraction

The cellphone law in Manitoba is utterly ridiculous. Drivers in Winnipeg were warned in the summer of 2010 that their cell phones would start costing them big bucks if used while driving. But even today, many don't understand why.

The Government of Manitoba website states driver inattention accounts for 80 per cent of all crashes, and the number one source of driver inattention is talking or texting on cellphones.

One person dramatically affected by cellphone usage while driving is Cheryl Derry. Her husband was killed by a distracted driver.

She told Global Winnipeg she believes nobody, including the police, is taking the law seriously.

"To me, it's like a joke," says Derry. "I mean, what is it, a money grab?"

Winnipeg police issued more than 100 tickets for using a cell phone while driving the first day the law took effect, netting nearly $22,000 in revenue.

In February, Manitoba Public Insurance offered the RCMP and Winnipeg and Brandon police departments $120,000 to crack down on drivers using cellphones. The intent appears to be to stop distracted driving and, hopefully, save lives.

But a $200 ticket is not the right course of action to do this. Instead, it resonates with many Manitobans as a "money grab."

By the end of last month, two reports of unjust ticket issuing reached the media. Two senior citizens were allegedly using their cellphones while driving -- even though they both claimed they didn't even own such gadgets.

One case was thrown out after a judge said there were no reasonable grounds for the ticket to stand on. The other is still up for debate.

I own a smart phone, which is just that -- smart. It acts as a map, a music player, a compass, a clock, a phone, a laptop and so much more.

I consider it less of a distraction than a physical map, FM radio tuner, or talkative passenger might be, but the traditional individual may disagree. For that reason, the law is headed in the right direction in stopping distracted drivers from provoking disaster on the road.

But if cell phone usage is at the epicentre of accidents on the road, then the punishment should be so much more severe and much more focused on those who are actually breaking this law.

Otherwise, we're left gawking at the legislation, thinking it nothing more than a police officer's way of picking through our pockets.

 

-- Kirah Sapong is a Creative Communications student at Red River College

 

Take away their phone privileges

Smartphones may be smart, but people using them while driving are anything but.

According to statistics, drivers are twenty-three times more likely to be in an accident while texting, and four times more like to cause a crash while talking. Tests show that the use of a smart phone reduces a driver's concentration by 37 per cent, and judging by the drivers I've encountered, not many of them are concentrating 100 per cent to begin with, which ups the chances of an accident even more. And when you consider that at highway speeds, a car travels the length of a football field in five seconds, those five seconds may mean life or death -- your own or someone else's.

Let's say a driver makes an illegal turn. He gets a ticket. Speeding in a school zone -- same thing. Not buckled up? Pay a fine. While a driver may grumble about getting caught, he knew what to expect. But when a driver grabs his smart phone, starts using it while driving, and an alert police officer catches him, suddenly there's an outcry that such tickets are nothing but cash grabs. Just how are such fines any different than those issued for other traffic violations?

If it appears to be a cash grab, it's because there are so many drivers using smart phones, and consequently, so many more being ticketed. Yes, police officers make mistakes and occasionally hand a ticket to an innocent driver, but that happens for other apparent violations too. If a driver believes he is not guilty of the infraction, he has the option of contesting the charge in traffic court.

If guilty as charged, however, I dare say the law would have more teeth to it if smart phones could be confiscated for varying lengths of time, much like cars are temporarily impounded or licenses suspended for other types of violations. Can you just imagine the pure agony of a young person who is forbidden to use a smart phone? The inconvenience for a business person?

I dare say most would think twice about risking even the short term loss of a gadget that has become such a part of daily life. Not only would they be deprived of the privilege, they would have to keep up the payments on their monthly contracts without the benefit of their smart phones -- ouch! But for those wrongly ticketed -- no penalty. They wouldn't miss the smart phones they don't own anyway.

 

-- Alma Barkman is a Winnipeg freelance writer,

photographer and homemaker

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 15, 2012 A10

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