Nfld. & Labrador

Texts cause wrecks: If phones are so smart, why aren't the drivers who wield them?

Drivers may feel they're invincible when they get behind the wheel, but that sensation is both false and dangerous, writes Wanita Bates.
Wanita Bates has a simple rule about cellphones: they don't mix with cars. (Wanita Bates)

Most people would never think they have a superpower, but yet when they get behind the wheel of a car, things change.

They feel invincible.   

You shift into drive and hit the gas, and your brain is fired up as you constantly react and make decisions. You think about options as your surroundings whiz by at 60 km/h.

There are split-second reactions like, "Where did that pedestrian come from?" or questions like, "If I take Torbay Road will I get there faster than if I continue up Newfoundland Drive?"

Then, there are the other drivers, who — according to you — can't drive at all. Statistically, 80 to 90 per cent of drivers overestimate their driving skills. How many times have you yelled in your car, "What an idiot!" or "What a terrible driver!"

As your hurtle your two-tonne vehicle down the street, you decide it's not about the journey anymore.

Your superpower becomes the innovative ways you can use your driving time: to bond with your pet, put on makeup, eat a sub, paint your nails, look for a CD, brush your teeth, shave, change clothes.

Oh, the errors of youth

I'm guilty of a few of those.I'll admit when I got my first pair of 1980s John Fluevog black patent leather derby clog boots, I was driving a bright yellow Ottawa Citizen car down the Queensway doing about 90 km/h — while trying to put them on.

Thank goodness we didn't have cellphones then or I'd have tried to take a selfie.

Driver distractions cause the majority of collisions in North America. (Getty Images)

Today's driver feels the constant need to be plugged in. You pick up your phone and peer at the five-inch screen to see if there are any new messages, and maybe to send a text.

Your eyes leave the road, your hands leave the steering wheel, and your brain … wait a minute. You're supposed to be driving.

You are now a part of the epidemic of "driving while distracted," and you are not alone.

The other day, while waiting for a light to turn, a woman breezed through a red light while looking at her phone.  Her superpower must have failed her. She wasn't able to text and drive safely.

One Mississippi …

The time you can safely glance away from the road while driving is two seconds.

Two seconds. One Mississippi, two Mississippi.

You know who doesn't get hit by distracted drivers? Flag people! (Ted Dillon/CBC)

It'll take you five seconds to send a short text. That's five Mississippis.

"Checking a text for five seconds means that at 90 km/h, you've travelled the length of a football field blindfolded," reports the Canadian Automobile Association.

Driving while distracted is the new DUI, or driving under the influence.

It already kills more people a year than impaired driving. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says, "During daylight hours, approximately 660,000 drivers are using cellphones while driving."

In North America, 5,500 people are killed a year by distracted drivers. That's 15 people a day. There are 1,000 accidents a day in the U.S. because of people are looking at their phones and not at the road.

That's 1,000 people a day saying, "I just looked away for a second."

Worse, that's 15 people who will never again say anything, ever. 

Terrifying statistics

The statistics are startling. Think about all of this: 

  • About 26 per cent of all car crashes involve phone use, including hands-free phones. (National Safety Council)
  • Estimates indicate drivers using phones look at, but fail to see, up to 50 per cent of the information in their driving environment. (National Safety Council, 2012)

Young drivers experience the perils of distracted and impaired driving

4 years ago
Edmonton high school students got behind the wheel Wednesday during the Ford Driving Skills For Life program. 1:06
  • Eighty per cent of collisions and 65 per cent of near crashes have some form of driver inattention as contributing factors. (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 2010)
  • Driver distraction is a factor in about four million motor vehicle crashes in North America each year. (RCMP, 2014)
  • Ten per cent of fatal crashes, 18 per cent of injury crashes, and 16 per cent of all police-reported motor vehicle traffic crashes were distraction-affected crashes. (National Highway Safety Administration, 2015)
  • Distraction was a factor in nearly six out of 10 moderate-to-severe teen crashes. (AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, 2015)
  • Almost half of all people killed in teen (15 to 19 years old) distraction-affected crashes were teens themselves.

Your superpower has failed you. You may need a new one, so how about the ability to turn off your phone before you get in the car?

Then turn it on again once you've reached your destination. If you do that, you superhero name could be "Arrive Alive!"

Unless of course there's someone in a car who decides that texting is more important than your life.

Texting is by far the most dangerous distraction of all on while driving.

Lifting off … or not

I'm old school. I can't even answer a cellphone if I'm driving.

However, I did once possess a superpower. When I was seven, I ran so fast across a playground in Thompson, Man., that I was sure I had sprouted wings and had flown. I was ecstatic.

It takes a few seconds to text someone. You can't spare more than a second when you're driving. (David Horemans/CBC)

Then as fast as I caught my breath, I tried again … no liftoff … and again … gravity had a hold on me.

As I grew older, my attempts to fly grew less frequent.

I've given a superpower some thought since then, and I've decided that while phones may be smart, the drivers aren't.

I want to use my superpower to free prisoners (drivers) from their "cell" phones and to make the roads safe again.

Ahem, driver in front of me, ahem 

Picture this: I'll be waiting for a red light to change and notice that when it turns green, the car in front of me just sits there. The driver's head is down.

I will point my index finger at that car and with a wink and nod (in homage to Bewitched, with a Newfoundland twist), I'll say, "Post It!"

Transportation expert Deborah Hersman says connected cars and hands-free devices cause excessive "cognitive workload" in drivers. 10:35

With a glittery puff of magic dust your cellphone has vanished, and in its place, a greeting card that says in the most flowery of fonts, "Sorry For Your Loss!"

Remember, no one can know my secret identity … but I'll tell you what it is. I share a name with a card company whose slogan used to be, "When You Care Enough to Send the Very Best."

I am … "Hallmark!"  I am a superhero who would leave a card in your hand, with a message that might just save your life. 

Hallmark introduced with a new slogan a few years ago: "Life is a Special Occasion."

To that, I would add this thought: please don't take away mine.

Bates wishes she had superpowers that could make the roads safer. (Wanita Bates)


Wanita Bates


Wanita Bates is a freelance writer, photographer and broadcaster in St. John's. She has won national and international awards for her work.