It’s been a month since Ontario introduced harsher penalties for distracted drivers, and a week since Manitoba increased the demerit points issued for distracted driving. British Columbia, meanwhile, has been holding consultations to determine if they too should look into stiffer fines to address the legion of cellphone-wielding masses checking messages behind the wheel.
Legislation varies from province to province, with fines as low as $100 in Newfoundland and Labrador and as high as $1,000 in Ontario; demerit points are not given at all in Alberta, while Manitobans risk being hit with five demerit points since July 1. If the fines don’t work to curb the bad behaviour, the demerit points add up to a license suspension. That’s the idea, anyway.
I have an Ontario G1 license. What that means is that I took a written test to verify that, yes, I can in fact tell the difference between a stop sign and a bull moose’s delicates. And no one from a government agency has since confirmed that I can, in fact, drive. Which means that I am generally precluded from participating in automobile-related events because they usually involve some manner of automobiling beyond my legal reach.
So imagine my surprise when State Farm hosted an event on distracted driving and said, “G1? That’s fine.” State Farm, whose business is all about minimizing risk while I’m essentially a walking billboard of unmitigated disaster. Sure, I might drive like my mother when there’s a passenger involved (which, given my G1 license, is always) but they don’t know that.
And because my relationship with sleep is permanently set to “It’s Complicated”, I showed up at 8 o’clock in the morning having spent zero hours in bed and wearing contact lenses that feel like they were freshly plucked from the arid expanse of the Atacama Desert.
But no worries, we’ve got coffee. Right?
What I’m trying to impress upon you is that these were not ideal conditions. Sure, the morning fog had quickly evaporated and it was, by anyone’s account, a gorgeous summer day. The fog in my head, on the other hand, was not very much improved by the two-litre infusion of surprisingly serviceable coffee. The closed course with its orange pylons made as much sense as an Rorschach inkblot that might have been a bunny or just as easily Whistler’s Mother-in-Law.
By the time the CBC camera crew rolled up, however, I’d arrived at a level of twitchiness that could almost be interpreted as “chipper”. And that’s dangerous, because my impairment was now masked under a veneer of ready smiles, easy banter and general agreeableness. I’m no Wednesday Addams, but when I smile and nothing’s on fire, it’s a clear sign something is very wrong.
Then the presentation started and John Bordignon, media relations spokesperson for State Farm, wasted no time getting straight to the point: distracted driving is a serious problem. In fact, in certain respects, it’s even more dangerous than other forms of impairment, because drivers don’t perceive their behaviour as such and therefore don’t take any precautions against it. And the most prevalent culprit isn’t even cellphone use, it’s distractions outside the car, like a very attractive pedestrian or a JDM kei-truck done up in bubblegum pink.