In BC there is a car crash nearly every 2 minutes. It’s costly and can be devastating for some families. Just last year, ICBC paid out nearly $4 billion in injury and vehicle damage claims. And the year before, 300 people died on our roads.

If you think things are getting worse, you’re right. ICBC reported a 23% increase in crashes between 2013 and 2016. A lot of that is because there are more cars and people on the roads and too many drivers let themselves get distracted by their electronic devices.

Driver attitude is also a factor. A recent survey showed that 99% of BC drivers think they’re good or excellent drivers. But 75% had wrong answers on a road test quiz. Another 20% admitted they were aggressive drivers, and a third said they bend the rules when they think there’s no one else around. These are not the traits of excellent drivers.

So what can you do to make our roads safer?

The number one thing is to follow the rules. That means no speeding, no reckless driving, and never allow yourself to become distracted by an electronic device. No text or tweet is worth a crash. Driving requires your full attention. You have to be cautious and alert when behind the wheel. Be aware of what’s going on around you and keep your focus on driving.

If you have kids that are approaching their driving years, there are two things you can do. First, be a good example. They learn from your habits – good and bad – whether you’re aware of that or not. Second, send them to an accredited driving school. They’ll learn proper driving techniques, avoid your bad habits, and they might even teach you a thing or two.

We all have a responsibility to be better drivers so our roads are safer and fewer families are hurt. Do your part and help make BC roads safer for everyone.

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If you’re drinking and driving and get pulled over, the police will likely ask you to provide a Breathalyzer sample to determine the level of alcohol in your blood. But what if you’re texting while driving? Get ready for the Textalyzer. Advances in technology are making it possible to determine whether or not a driver has been texting or using their hand-held device while driving.

Back in 2011, Ben Lieberman of New York lost his 19-year-old son in a tragic car crash. His son was in the back seat of a car when the driver suddenly crossed over the center line and collided head on with another vehicle. It had all the signs of a case of texting and driving, but as Ben found out, that wasn’t so easy to prove.

“Phone records — as I found out the hard way — they’re tough to get [and] it’s an agonizing process,” said Ben of the process. The driver was claiming that he was drowsy and merely dozed off, denying that any texting took place. New York, just like BC and many other jurisdictions in North America, has a strict ban and penalties on texting and cellphone use while driving.

After six months of digging, pushing, and challenging the legal system, Ben was able to get the records he needed. In examining the data, the truth came out—the driver was using his phone just prior to the accident that killed Ben’s son. A young man’s future extinguished by a careless text.

But Ben Lieberman did not let the fight die with his son nor did he let it end with the closing of the case. Creating an advocacy group, Ben has been working with a tech company called Cellebrite to develop a new technology that would essentially be the Breathalizer of texting and driving. The “Textalyzer” canlet law enforcement know almost immediately if a phone was in use moments before a crash. All that’s needed it to attach the phone to a device and a quick answer comes back.

Lee Papathanasiou is an engineer who worked on the device: “They can simply just tap one button … and it will process, about 90 seconds or so, and it will show what the last activities were — again that could be a text message and so on — with a time stamp.”

The technology still has some further development before it becomes fully functional and of course it will have to be accepted by and configured for use in various jurisdictions. The device doesn’t examine what has been sent or shared, only whether or not a phone has been used, which should help alleviate any legal concerns with privacy.

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Texting and driving is one of the most dangerous things you can do, but it’s not the only distraction hurting and killing people on our roadways. Many of us think we’re champions at multi-tasking and that driving is just a minor inconvenience while you’re doing other things. It’s not. Driving requires your full attention.

But other than playing around with a phone, what other things are distracting people behind the wheel? Here is what law enforcement says.

Eating and drinking

Reserve eating for times when you’re not motoring down the freeway at 100 km/h. Some easy to reach and eat snacks can be acceptable. A messy cheeseburger or a piping hot bowl of soup – not so much.

While you know you should never drink alcohol and drive, even reaching for or drinking a non-alcoholic beverage can be a risk. Removing a lid or cap or handling a hot coffee can distract you from what’s happening on the road. Pull over or wait until you are stopped.

Grooming on the go

Whether it’s shaving or putting on lipstick or tying a tie, leave that for home or at least for when you’re fully stopped. When you’re driving, the rearview mirror is not for primping. The time you think you are saving could end up being lost to you forever.

Music and stereos

“Life is a Highway” a great tune for driving, but let’s keep the volume down, please. Your music or favorite talk radio show should be at a reasonable level so you can still hear what’s happening outside and around your car. Whether it’s a siren, screeching brakes or a horn from another car, or a warning sound from your car’s sensors, you need to hear as well as see when driving. And don’t be fiddling with center console stereo controls while you’re driving either – that takes your eyes off the road.

All things electronic

Yes, we’ve mentioned cellphone usage but they’re not the only devices people reach for when driving. Game consoles, GPS devices, tablets – all of these are distractions. In 2010, the rules in BC on both hands-free and handheld technologies were clarified – some permitted, some banned. The list is available here. And of course, in 2016, the fines for distracted driving in BC went up.

Your brain

Your brain is a powerful computing system. But it can work against you. Maybe there’s something worrying you, or you’re tired, or you’re just bored from driving on long stretches of boring highway. But it is difficult for your brain to concentrate on two things at once.  That is why distracted driving is so dangerous.

To prevent distraction, avoid driving when you’re tired or emotionally stressed or drained. Take frequent stops to rest, replenish, and rejuvenate. And remind yourself that you’re driving – it’s no time to get lost in your own head. No matter what the distraction is, leave it behind when driving.

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Snapchat, HipChat, WhatsApp, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook Messenger, good ol’ texting – we get it! There’s an endless array of ingenious apps out there to let people connect and communicate from their smartphones and your kids are probably using most of them. But one place where smart apps are just plain stupid? When you’re behind the wheel of a car.

As a parent, you need to talk to your kids about the dangers of distracted driving. No message, no app, no cute cat meme is ever worth losing your focus or losing your life. Set the example and leave your phone alone while driving.

Jacy Good from Pennsylvania knows all too well the consequences of drivers distracted by their mobile devices. In 2008, her parents were killed in a horrific crash caused by a teenager who was focused on his phone and not his driving. Since that horrible day, she’s been sharing her story with young drivers hoping to get the message across – there’s more on the line than whatever message is on your phone.

On her last day of college, Jacy’s parents were driving her home when suddenly at an intersection, a milk truck slammed right into their car trying to avoid an oncoming car driven by a teen talking on his phone. In a split-second, Jacy’s parents were gone and Jacy herself was seriously injured. Broken bones, surgeries, a brain injury, and a lengthy recovery later, she now shares her story hoping that it will deter drivers from picking up their phone while driving.

The story didn’t just end there. While Jacy had to recover from a traumatic brain injury and can’t use one of her arms or the lower part of a leg, there was another victim that day. The truck driver was so traumatized by the event that he couldn’t bring himself to ever drive again. His life spiraled out of control and into a toxic soup of anxiety, depression, substance abuse, and family problems eventually leading to his suicide. All that from one kid on a cellphone.

Sadly, Jacy’s story has become all too common. But she wants it to be a warning to kids and parents: “I want people to stop killing each other. It’s in your hands to make this world, to make our roads a little bit better place to be.”

So before you hand over the car keys to your teen driver remember Jacy’s story and share it with your kids: focus on driving and absolutely no use of devices while behind the wheel of a car. Nothing on your phone is ever more important than that single message.

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Texting and driving is a world-wide problem and it’s killing us. Our devices have gotten smarter, but what about people? Too many of us continue to text while driving and the results are senseless and tragic.

You don’t mess with Texas, and as one driver in the Lone Star State learned the hard way you also don’t mess with texting and driving. This spring, a 20 year-old man in a pickup truck was driving through a rural part of the state. His driving was erratic and caused others on the road to worry. Then suddenly their fears were confirmed — he crashed into a church van. He survived but thirteen people in the van were killed.

How did such a tragedy unfold so quickly and with such deadly consequences? “I’m sorry. I was texting,” the young man was heard to say at the site of the crash. Thirteen souls wiped from the Earth because one man just couldn’t put his phone down. Legislation is working its way through the state house, but Texas currently doesn’t have rules against texting while driving. Forty-six other states do.

US texting driving bans by state

 

Canadian regulations are of course different. Nunavut is the only jurisdiction with no such rules on the books – every other province and territory has a ban and penalties. Here in BC, using an electronic device while driving has been banned since 2010. If you’re using a hand-held electronic device while driving, there’s an immediate first-time fine of $368 and four penalty points – an additional $175. That text will cost you $543 and will go up and up each time you do it. Ten offences in a year in BC can add up to over $18,000 in penalties!

Some hands-free devices are permitted while driving in British Columbia, including audio and navigation systems. A list of these, with details, is available here. But if you have a red “L” or a green “N” on the back of your BC licensed car, no devices are allowed at all, including hands-free technology.

While bans and fines have an impact on some people’s decision to leave their phones alone while driving, more needs to be done to change attitudes and behaviours. Take the pledge to never text while driving, lock up your devices while behind the wheel, and make sure your loved ones are on the same page. If not? Well, as one man and a community in Texas found out recently, there’s a much harsher impact on lives than any fine or point deduction – leave the phone alone.

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Marc Garneau was the first Canadian in space, but now as the federal Minister of Transport, he’s blasting off again – this time against distracted driving in this country. Just recently, Garneau came out in support of creating a consistent set of rules and penalties for distracted driving from coast to coast, especially when it comes to using electronic devices while driving.

As it stands, distracted driving laws are a provincial and territorial matter and each has different rules and different ways of enforcing their laws. Here in BC, we have some of the toughest – a $543 fine for a first time offender. Up in Nunavut, there’s currently no law. All other provinces and territories have some form of fine and demerit system in place.

If you look at car crashes across Canada in 2014, 20% of fatalities involved some form of distracted driving, and nearly a third of the people injured in a crash were the victim of a distracted driver. You don’t even have to look at the statistics to know this is a problem – stand at any street corner and watch the traffic go by and you’ll see more than a few heads turned away from the road. The potential for a horrific crash is there with every text, tweet, and swipe.

Ottawa is deeply concerned, but it isn’t completely a federal matter. That’s why Garneau has written to all provincial and territorial transport ministers, expressing a desire for “all jurisdictions to consider adopting measures which are both stricter in terms of their impact but also uniform across the country.”

If you are caught texting and driving you could even be charged with a criminal offence under the  Criminal Code of Canada. A conviction for dangerous driving could result in a large fine, jail time, and a criminal record. The maximum jail time is five years for dangerous driving, 10 years for dangerous driving causing bodily harm, and 14 years for dangerous driving causing death.

With distracted drivers injuring and killing thousands each year, Garneau has decided it is time to come back down to earth and take a hard look at introducing more severe civil consequences for distracted driving.

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Mobile technology makes it so much easier to stay connected to your work no matter where you are. But one place where it can hurt more than help is when you’re behind the wheel of a car.

Wherever you may work, a smartphone keeps you in touch with your team, on schedule, and knowing where you need to be. But with thousands of serious crashes across North America caused by distracted drivers, your most important job is to stay focused on the road when you’re driving.

Cargill, one of the largest corporations in the United States, recently banned thousands of employees from using mobile devices while driving. Many of us feel pressured to always “be on” and to be responsive to our bosses, colleagues, and clients. The bings, dings, and rings of our devices are constant reminders of our commitments. But no call, email, text, or Slack notification is worth a life.

Here are a few ways to be a productive and protected worker when the job puts you on the road:

If you do have to make an urgent call or respond to a time-sensitive message, make sure you safely pull out of traffic and off the road. Only use your device when you’re fully stopped and out of harm’s way.

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It’s just one text at a red light, right? I’m fully stopped so no harm, right? If you think this way, you’re wrong! A survey conducted by the Canadian Automobile Association (CAA) found that one third of all Canadians have texted while stopped at a red light.

Distracted driving is dangerous and even if you’re stopped at an intersection, you’re still in control of a running car and putting yourself and others at risk. Mike Morris, BC’s Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General, recently pointed out some of the particular hazards of texting at a red light.

“Intersections are busy places that require your full attention when you’re at the wheel,” he said in New Year’s message to drivers in the province. “Awareness at all times means you’re better prepared to react and take evasive action – for example, if an emergency vehicle or a distracted driver is coming up behind you! You’d be surprised how often distracted driving leads to rear-end crashes and related injuries.”

Along with the physical risk of texting while in a busy intersection, using your device is a costly distraction when driving. Across the country, all of the provinces and two of the territories have strict bans, penalties, and fines for using a hand-held cell phone while driving (only Nunavut has no such legislation yet). The fines in BC are some of the stiffest.

So put those phones away! And if you absolutely must check your phone or send a text, the right thing to do is to pull completely out of traffic and stop and park in a safe place away from moving traffic or pedestrians. Only then will you get the green light to pull out your phone.

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Every new year means new resolutions. Whether it’s losing weight, saving money, or spending more time with loved ones, it’s good to start the year with new goals.

But if you’re tired of the old clichéd goals or don’t want to have to fight the January lineups at the gym, we have seven ideas that can make for a safer new you in 2017.

1. No cellphone use while driving.

For the first time in decades, driving fatalities increased in 2016 and texting and driving was the main culprit. No message is more important than someone’s life. So let’s all vow to put those phones away while behind the wheel.

2. End all other driving distractions.

Of course, texting and cellphone use is one of the most dangerous driving habits on today’s roads but they’re not the only distractions causing us to crash. Whether it’s eating while driving, looking at you in the rear-view mirror, or fiddling too much with stereo or climate controls, there are too many things to distract our attention from the road. And no matter what you think, driving requires all your concentration.

3. Stop texting while walking.

Cellphones aren’t just a problem on the roads. They have become a rising problem on our sidewalks – someone out for a walk, focused on a text or a tweet and not paying attention to their surroundings. That’s the moment when they trip on a curb, collide with another pedestrian, or worse, step into moving traffic.

4. No driving while impaired.

We’ve known for decades the devastation caused by impaired driving, and yet people still do it. A 2016 study even ranked Canada as the worst offender in the industrialized world for drunk-driving fatalities. If you drink, don’t drive.

5. Be mindful of cyclists.

Whether you’re in a luxury SUV or a cute little microcar, you still have to be extra cautious when driving near and around cyclists. Always give them enough room, make eye contact, and as we’ve learned from the Dutch this year, be especially careful when opening the door into cycling lanes.

6. Be a safer cyclist.

There are more and more Vancouverites switching to bikes to get around the city. It’s a healthy and environmental-friendly way to get about, but safety must be a top priority. Our city’s protected bike lanes are a great addition, but you still have to follow the rules and take precautions before and during your ride.

7. Get ready for a disaster.

OK, some people thought 2016 was a disaster on its own, but the truth is, not many of us are prepared for a real emergency. Living along a fault line as we do, a serious earthquake would be mayhem for residents of the Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island. And the first 72 hours are the most critical. So resolve to get your plan and kit together.

But of course, we’ll all hope that 2017 is a safe, happy, and joyful year for everyone.

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Compared to decades ago, our roads and highways are safer. We’ve added more safety features to our cars, build them to be more crash-proof, and have safer infrastructure. The majority of people are wearing their seatbelts and the message about not drinking and driving has been gaining traction.

But then the cellphone came along and we messed it all up. Those pocket-sized bundles of distraction are always beeping, pinging, dinging, and ringing and we just can’t seem to put them down. And the addiction is killing us.

In the United States, 2016 proved to be a strange year and not just for the reason you think. For the first time in 50 years, the highway fatality rate increased, jumping by just over 10% in the first six months of the year when compared to 2015. Much of the blame can be put on distracted drivers.

Whether its texting, checking email, playing with an app, or posting to social media, using your phone while driving is a seriously bad habit with deadly consequences. We’re not immune to the problem here in Canada. Last June, the BC government upped the fines for drivers caught using a handheld mobile device while driving. In the four months since, traffic accidents increased by almost 2%. And it can happen in the blink of an eye.

What can you do? Well first thing is never use your phone while driving. If you must have a phone conversation, use a hands free device. Many of today’s new cars come equipped with this technology. Better yet, pull over and safely out of the way of traffic to talk, or check and respond to messages. And if you have kids, make sure they’re onside in the battle against distracted driving – absolutely no texting while driving! Whatever it is, it can wait. Because no message, game, or app is ever worth risking anyone’s life.

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