CAA Manitoba President Tim Scott.
How to adjust your thinking and navigate a culture shift behind the wheel.
We've seen culture shifts in driving safety emerge in the past. As a society, our beliefs—and subsequently our behaviours—change and adapt as new information comes forward. We've seen this change in attitudes and compliance rates when it comes to wearing seatbelts and not drinking and driving, but there is a new culture shift that now needs to occur for our well-being: distracted driving. Many people still don't realize that looking at your phone for two seconds can double your risk of a crash.
Manitobans agree that distracted driving is one of the biggest threats to personal safety on the road, yet one-third of us admit to exhibiting these behaviours. According to Manitoba Public Insurance, distracted driving caused more than 15,400 collisions in 2017, resulting in 30 deaths. Yet, these numbers haven't curbed the behaviour: In the first six weeks of 2019, Winnipeg Police Service issued 3,400-plus tickets for distracted driving.
Last fall, the penalties for distracted driving became much harsher. Drivers will now receive a three-day licence suspension and a $672 fine for their first offence—that's more than three times the previous fine of $203. If convicted, at-fault drivers will also drop five levels on the driver safety rating scale. While strengthening the penalties is a necessary step, we also need to change perceptions.
It took us a long time to embrace seatbelt use and view impaired driving as a taboo. We need to get there faster with distracted driving because we have seen the consequences if we don't. All drivers need to put down their phones now. Police, government, CAA and community groups are all working together to encourage change. But ultimately, the onus is on drivers.
CAA recommends following good driving practices behind the wheel. For instance, ask your passenger to handle the phone, GPS and infotainment system. If you're travelling alone, program your GPS before you start the ignition, and set your phone to driving mode so it auto-responds to texts.
Stronger penalties and enforcement along with education and awareness campaigns are all essential tools in the safe-driving toolkit. CAA Manitoba is committed to continued advocacy on road safety and our work to create a culture shift on distracted driving.