Are we being distracted to death?

Editorial: A call for self-policing behind the wheel

There has been a string of fatal accidents recently, some affecting the Virden area directly, and the toll is heartbreaking.

Just in the last few weeks, there was a fatal rollover on Highway 2, a head-on collision on Highway 14 that killed a 14-year-old girl, and a car-pedestrian accident on Highway 83 near Birdtail that took another young life.

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We don’t know what factors were at play to cause those incidents. But far too often, the RCMP accident reports go something like this:

“Investigation has determined that the westbound vehicle crossed the centre line, colliding head on with the eastbound vehicle.”

What could be causing so many drivers to meander into oncoming traffic? Distracted driving is the most likely suspect, and the mind automatically goes to smart phones as the culprit.

But there are others.

CAA Manitoba also lists these dangerous distractions: using an entertainment device or GPS while driving, interacting with passengers, putting on or taking off clothes (!), grooming, eating, drinking, and smoking.

And that’s just what’s going on inside the car.

Outside the vehicle, there are construction zones to navigate, signage and road workers, accident scenes, wildlife, advertising and, of course, the other driver. Defensive driving is more important than ever, but it can’t save you from a car that suddenly veers into your lane at highway speed.

Back when the world was a lot younger, people knew that driving was an important job that deserved their full attention. Some even insisted on silencing the radio and the kids in the back seat lest they steal the driver’s focus.

Now, our ears and eyes are in higher demand than ever before. Vehicles come equipped with screens right on the dash. And we’ve all seen drivers with their phone up to their ear or, more commonly, resting on the steering wheel while they text away.

And we wonder: “Where are the police? Don’t they see this? If it’s against the law, why does it still happen so often?”

Whether or not our communities have enough police patrols or whether penalties are tough enough are valid questions for another day.   

What’s certain is we as drivers aren’t doing a good enough job policing our own behaviour and modeling it for our kids. If you’ve ever eaten a Big Mac, reached for a dropped item, or removed a jacket while driving, you’re a distracted driver.

Snap out of it. This is real life here. And real death.

© Virden Empire-Advance