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Fatal Distractions
(Distracted Driving)

By Dr. Peter W. Kujtan, B.Sc., M.D., Ph.D.

Article printed on page 33 in the April 9, 2014 issue
Reprinted on page 25 in the April 30, 2014 issue of
The Mississauga News under the feature: Health & Beauty, Medicine Matters.
Portrait of Dr. Peter W. Kujtan, supplied 2005
Dr. Peter W. Kujtan

One of the main reasons we have a Coroner system is to learn from the most tragic of events in the hopes that other similar tragedies might be avoided. Looking back at the last group of traffic fatalities that I have investigated, there seem to be recurrent themes that are seen over and over again.

Ignoring safety devices is one theme. We continue to see severe injury and death when people fail to use their seat belt. We have safer cars than ever, with multiple air bags, better brakes, skid control, crumpling glass, but it all depends on people being properly strapped into their seats, for the safety devices to help.

Speed is rarely a factor on its own. It goes with erratic driving. These are drivers who make unexpected decisions while driving that cause other drivers to react evasively or exert a greater degree of vigilance and stress. It is not absolute speed. Our highways and modern vehicles can easily handle very high rates of speed. It is when the speed is used with poor judgment that problems occur. For example, driving 120 km/hr in a dry, sunny, non-crowded, passing lane of a super highway is safely done daily, but the same speed on a dark, slippery exit ramp can be fatal. It is too difficult to legislate the need for good judgment. Seasoned police officers try to target erratic speeders, since we know that group is most in need of reminders.

Alcohol and drug use is the third factor. Alcohol is the most common substance slowing down reaction times and impairing judgment, but sedatives, marijuana and narcotics are factoring into the picture more often, the latter ones being harder to notice.

Finally, cell phone use and texting have put a whole new dimension into the accident investigation field. We live in a new wireless world which is expanding. Using these devices in their current form while driving is dangerous. Putting restrictions on their use while driving is difficult to enforce. To illustrate the point, I had one of my assistant residents count how many drivers they could spot using a cell phone on the 401 during rush hour. We spotted a shocking nine in less than 3 minutes.

One study showed that while texting, your brain blocks out the left side of your visual field without you realizing it. Numerous friends admit to having a close call while using a cellular device. With time, technology will catch up and new safer ways to integrate phones into our cars will be introduced. Examples include strobe lights that signal other drivers a device is in use or newer windshield displays and voice technology.

For the time being, it is a fatal combination to drink, text, drive aggressively and not use your seat belt. It is a pattern that is beginning to repeat itself to cause a lot of harm and grief particularly among younger male drivers.

Related resources:

Distracted driving from Wikipedia.

Texting while driving from Wikipedia. "Texting while driving is the act of composing, sending, reading text messages, email, or making other similar use of the web on a mobile phone while operating a motor vehicle. The practice has been viewed by many people and authorities as dangerous, and in some places has been outlawed or restricted. Texting while driving leads to increased distraction behind the wheel."

Mobile phones and driving safety from Wikipedia. "Mobile phone use while driving is common, but widely considered dangerous. Due to the number of accidents that are related to cell phone use while driving, some jurisdictions have made the use of a cell phone while driving illegal. Others have enacted laws to ban handheld mobile phone use, but allow use of a handsfree device."

Driving Requires Your Full Attention. Ontario's ban on hand-held devices while driving took effect on October 26, 2009. "The law makes it illegal for drivers to talk, text, type, dial or email using hand-held cell phones and other hand-held communications and entertainment devices. The law also prohibits drivers from viewing display screens unrelated to the driving task, such as laptops or DVD players, while driving. The use of hands-free devices is still permitted, and drivers may use hand-held devices to call 9-1-1.

'Hands-free' use means that apart from activating or deactivating the device, it is not held during use and the driver is not physically interacting with or manipulating it. Actions such as dialing or scrolling through contacts, or manually programming a GPS device, for example, are not allowed.

Drivers caught using a hand-held device will face a set fine of $225 plus a victim surcharge and court fees for a total of $280. Drivers who challenge the ticket in court face fines of up to $500."

Distracted Driving Laws in Canada. Distracted driving is a national issue. As a result, all 10 provinces in Canada have some form of cell phone/distracted driving legislation in place. See a synopsis of Hand-Held Cell Phone Legislation in Canada. List by Province of Fines, Demerits, and When law came into effect.

Traffic collision from Wikipedia. "A traffic collision, also known as a traffic accident, motor vehicle collision, motor vehicle accident, car accident, automobile accident, road traffic collision, wreck (USA), car crash, or car smash (Australian) occurs when a vehicle collides with another vehicle, pedestrian, animal, road debris, or other stationary obstruction, such as a tree or utility pole. Traffic collisions may result in injury, death, vehicle damage, and property damage.

A number of factors contribute to the risk of collision, including vehicle design, speed of operation, road design, road environment, driver skill and/or impairment, and driver behaviour. . .

A 1985 report based on British and American crash data found driver error, intoxication and other human factors contribute wholly or partly to about 93% of crashes."

What Causes Car Accidents? From Smart Motorist. Four factors contribute to the vast majority of collisions. In ascending order they are: Equipment Failure, Roadway Design, Poor Roadway Maintenance, Driver Behavior.

Top 25 Causes of Car Accidents in the United States, from the Law Offices of Michael Pines: Auto Accident Legal Advice, Serious Accidents.com. 1. Distracted Driving. 2. Speeding. 3. Drunk Driving. 4. Reckless Driving. 5. Rain. 6. Running Red Lights. 7. Running Stop Signs. 8. Teenage Drivers. 9. Night Driving. 10. Design Defects. 11. Unsafe Lane Changes. 12. Wrong-Way Driving. 13. Improper Turns. 14. Tailgating. 15. Driving Under the Influence of Drugs. 16. Ice. 17. Snow. 18. Road Rage. 19. Potholes. 20. Drowsy Driving. 21. Tire Blowouts. 22. Fog. 23. Deadly Curves. 24. Animal Crossing. 25. Street Racing. Site provides further details on each cause.

Distracted Driving from Serious Accidents.com. Distracted drivers are quietly causing a staggering amount of serious car accidents. In fact, driver distractions are the leading cause of most auto accidents.

Why are the Car Accidents Happening? (cause and effect) Essay by spoonful, January 2005. Car accidents can happen to drivers anytime, anywhere. In general, about twenty million people die or become injured due to car accidents each year nationwide. Among the car accidents, the teenage group is the only age group who is number of deaths is increasing instead of decreasing ...

First, drinking and driving is the leading cause of car accidents. Driving while intoxicated is dangerous ...

Second, using cell phones while driving causes car accidents ...

Another cause of accidents on the road is teenage drivers. Some teenagers cause fatal accidents, because of immaturity and lack of experience ...

Causes and Effects of Traffic Accidents by Janise Smith, eHow Contributor. Distracted Drivers, Impaired Drivers and Driver Fatigue, Weather Conditions, Effects of Traffic Accidents.

Distracted driving laws across Canada. Only Nunavut has no regulations regarding use of hand-held devices in vehicles, from CBC News, 19 Mar. 2014.

10 Most Dangerous Distracted Driving Habits by Akweli Parker, HowStuffWorks.

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