What Is Being Done About Driver Inattention in Ontario?

The results are in: Ontario’s roads, trails, and waterways were more deadly last year than in 2016.

Every year, the OPP reports the number of fatalities on the roads and areas they patrol, and the numbers for 2017 are bleak.

Road fatalities reached a 5-year high at 343 deaths (up from 307 in 2016). Fatalities involving motorcycles (48) and transport trucks (91)  also reached 10-year highs. Snowmobile-related fatalities have reached an all-time high, at 29 deaths in 2017. Boating and off-roading fatalities were up  as well.

Perhaps the only encouraging news from this report is the deaths of fewer pedestrians (27) than 2016, when there were 39. (Although given the spike in pedestrian deaths in Toronto over the last few months, a net decrease in pedestrian deaths in Ontario seems unlikely.)

The OPP also shed some light on what factors played a role in these fatalities, and revealed that three of the “Big Four”  causal factors were up in 2017, meaning there were more fatalities related to inattention, speed, and seatbelts than the previous year. Alcohol and drug-related fatalities were down–but by only one.

Given that the top causal factor was inattention-related, and we know that distracted driving-related fatalities have doubled since 2000 (and that one person is injured in a distraction-related collision every half hour), it is abundantly clear that more needs to be done to battle driver inattention.

Year after year, municipalities and the OPP run campaigns to bring awareness to the issue. The province is gradually making distracted driving penalties more severe. Ontario’s first distracted driving legislation was introduced in 2009, toughened up in 2015, and further laws were passed in the fall of 2017. When the newest laws come into effect, there will be  even tougher penalties, such as automatic license suspensions and more severe consequences for careless driving.

It is encouraging to hear that police are becoming more likely to issue tickets rather than warnings when they witness infractions. Commenting during this year’s week-long blitz, OPP Sgt. David Rektor noted that “The time for warnings is certainly gone. Warnings served a purpose at the initial stages when people were transitioning to this law, but this law has been in effect for a number of years now. There’s no reason why somebody needs to be distracted.”

Ultimately, a broad change in societal beliefs is just as critical as any legislation. Just as drinking and driving has become socially unacceptable, the same must become true for distracted driving. As one op-ed suggested, “distracted driving is the new impaired and the penalties should reflect the deadly consequences that practice entail.”