Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Solving distracted driving, one idiot at a time

The scene: Wharncliffe Boulevard northbound, 6:10 p.m. yesterday. I find myself sitting at the front of a long line of traffic, at the red light at the Riverside Boulevard intersection. I'm in the right lane, and I can smell the Mexican-food dinners being cooked up at the beloved Under the Volcano restaurant that looms over the sidewalk across the road to the west.

In my rearview, an endless line of idling cars, plus one motorcyclist just behind my bumper. To my left, a middle-aged woman in a black, late-model Honda Accord, Ontario plate BWFY 954. Her head is in the now-obvious tilted-down position, and her hands are nowhere to be seen. She's either praying to an unseen god, or she's texting. Within seconds, I conclude the latter, as she starts smiling to herself, clearly engaged in a silent conversation through her fingers. I figure I'll have fun with her because, hey, what else is there to do at a red light?

So I keep staring at her, watching her facial expressions continue to cycle through smiles, laughs, crinkled brows and intense focus. It would be a fascinating observation of human behaviour if she was sitting on a park bench. But she isn't. She's in control of a 3,336 pound vehicle. And while she may think she's fine because she's sitting at a red light, research has already proven that red-light-texters are, in fact, compromised for up to 30 seconds after the light turns green. I think of the motorcyclist behind me, and how he doesn't deserve to be pancaked by anyone, much less someone who just couldn't wait to get home to text-chat with her BFF, and absolutely, positively, had to use her phone on the road.

I stare some more. It's always been a super-long light, so I know I've got lots of time to play with. Eventually, she turns toward me and realizes what I'm up to. Her shoulders jump in surprise. I smile impassively before I slowly shake my head from side to side. I say nothing - she wouldn't hear me through two panes of glass, anyway. She stares back with a blank look on her face, and it occurs to me that she may still not understand. I make a phone-to-my-ear gesture, followed by a down gesture. She turns her head back to the front of the car, puts both hands on the steering wheel and spends the rest of the cycle frozen in time and space, probably hoping I go away forever.

Eventually, the light turned green, and thanks to the yin and yang of rush-hour traffic, she ended up shadowing me for much of the next couple of kilometres before I had to turn off. From what I could see, she behaved herself, but I'm pretty sure I'm off her Christmas card list for good.

A few months ago, I was talking about distracted driving on-air with Andy Oudman, host of CJBK's The Live Drive. I was ranting about how rampant distracted driving has become, how we've become surrounded by driver-seat texters, that this has become our new, seemingly acceptable normal.

Except it isn't normal. And it should never be acceptable. So we vowed that day to go public every time we saw it play out on the roads. We've continued to discuss it on-air - because, let's face it, it's getting worse - and this blog entry is my attempt at escalating the campaign in a different way. Vehicle descriptions, license numbers, behaviours - if I see it, I'm outing it.

Whether you're this particular Honda-driving woman, or anyone else who texts at the wheel, your presumption of privacy disappears the instant you pull your vehicle onto a public road and decide to put everyone around you at risk. It may not bother you, but it bothers me. And I'm done being silent or polite about it.

Who's with me?

Update - March 29: If you'd like to contact the London Police Service's Traffic Management Unit, head here:

Update - March 30: I saw another offender on the way home today. Here's the lowdown: 5:29 p.m., Wellington northbound, corner Commissioners, in the left-hand turning lane. A 2015 of 2016 Honda CR-V covered from head-to-toe in Pizza Pizza graphics (I kid you not) with Ontario plate BXRT 553. Driver was busy on his phone at the red light. I stared a bit. He noticed. Texted some more, then thought twice. Placed the phone back in its holster in the middle of the dash. Smiled and waved at me as the light turned green and he drove away. Sure, he was friendly and realized the error of his ways. But he nevertheless put everyone around him at risk, hence my mentioning the incident here.


rashbre said...

Authorities are just about to bump up the penalties here in the UK. 6 points and double the previous fine, for using a handheld whilst driving.

Anonymous said...

Today, while at a light, the black Jeep Cherokee (?) behind me (Male driver w passenger) clearly texting while waiting for the light. BZJJ 322.