Today’s car fulfils many different roles. Serving as a mobile office and living room has, however, meant cars are increasingly a danger to others.
In legislation implemented on Monday, the provincial government aimed to reduce the danger levels and return vehicles to their primary purpose, the safe movement of people from one place to another. The “distracted driver” law makes it illegal to use a hand-held device, such as a cell phone, smart phone or Ipod, to talk, text, email or change songs while driving. Yvonne Bambrick, the executive director of the Toronto Cyclists Union, is pleased with the legislation but views it as an initial step.
“It’s a good start, but it hasn’t necessarily gone far enough,” she said. “Even when they’re hands-free, devices are distracting. When you make a call you have to look at the device to dial, or even when you take a call.”
She is also worried that all the laws and information in the world can’t overcome human nature.
“We tend not to learn our lesson until it hurts,” Bambrick said.
She would like to see the law extended to stationary vehicles, as a lot of automobile-cyclist incidents happen as distracted drivers open their doors without looking after they have parked.
Over the next few months police departments across the province will educate the public on the expectations of the new law. Sgt. Jack West of the traffic office at East York’s 54 Division, thinks the educational approach is a good one.
“We’ll start by having fireside chats,” he said. “We’ll try and educate the public. Drivers who break the law will be cautioned and given an information pamphlet.”
The caution does not appear on an individual’s record in any way.
Bambrick agrees that educating the public is the fairest way to introduce new legislation. This approach has been used before, when new rules for cyclists were introduced. She feels it is important that the public is given time to learn.
The education blitz ends on Feb. 1 next year. After that transgressors face fines of up to $500.
Both West and Bambrick think it is important to try and bring the car back to its original purpose.
West likened cars to offices with modern day drivers more worried about preparing for the next meeting or thinking about a contract they just read than about focusing on the road in front of them.
“Cars have become way too comfortable. It’s like driving around in your living room,” Bambrick said. “Operating a motor vehicle is a privilege and we have to respect that.”