How to resist email while driving

The red and blue flashing in the rear-view mirror put a quick halt to my distracted driving. The suspicious police officer stuck her nose inside the car window, sniffing for a telltale whiff of alcohol.

“Had something to drink tonight?” she asked. “You were weaving a bit back there.”

Arguably worse than the effects of a beer or two, I’d been busted for driving badly while texting my daughter that her overdue father was on the way home. Just my luck. A BlackBerry-induced sway on a highway at night and the lone car in sight was a cruiser.

The officer listened to my grovelling explanation and let me off with a scolding to be more careful in the future, but not before a parting snarl that “I wish they’d make it illegal” for idiots to drive while texting.

She was absolutely correct — and got her wish last week when Ontario joined Newfoundland and Labrador, Quebec and Nova Scotia taking aim at the obvious danger of talking or text-typing with hands supposedly in command of a steering wheel.

Others are poised to join the crackdown. An Alberta government committee is drafting laws to reduce accidents that are expected to include a cellphone texting ban. British Columbia is looking at a law to prohibit drivers from writing e-mails or texts. The medical community is pushing ever harder for a complete ban on cellphones in cars.

The lunacy of allowing DVDs or video games as distractions, or permitting hand-held phones or texting while driving, is obvious, particularly on an Ottawa freeway that seems to have become a nocturnal meeting place for car-dodging deer.

The statistics are deadly. University studies have calculated that for every 6.5 seconds it takes to compose an e-mail or text, the driver’s eyes are off the road for 4.6 seconds. At 100 km/h, that means a car could travel the length of a football field without the driver noticing. Yikes.

They have also found that 50 per cent of those between the ages of 18 and 24 habitually text while driving — a distraction that makes an accident 23 times more likely. No wonder 18 U.S. states have outlawed e-mail writing or text messaging while driving, along with almost 50 countries, including China, India and Russia.

Some laws are asinine and deserve to be flouted: even the Ontario legislation has a wrinkle that allows the driver to change radio stations, but makes it illegal to select songs on an MP3 player. The transportation minister can’t say if duct-taping an MP3 player to the dashboard would make selecting songs legal.

But smart laws backed by common sense can change public attitudes for the better, tougher drunk-driving consequences being a prime example.

Coming down hard on electronically distracted drivers is a smart law that should be replicated in every province and territory, if not imposed nationally by Justice Minister Rob Nicholson, who is on a law-and-order bender of sorts, with almost daily notices of bills or planned legislation.

That summer encounter with law enforcement had mostly ended my 100 km/h habit of firing off e-mail responses or texting friends to warn about speed traps, but I was still sneaking a peak at e-mails while at stop lights or in traffic jams. Now the law insists on a complete withdrawal.

Complicating matters, the ban came into effect in a week when a particularly robust flow of e-mails and texts sent my BlackBerry into hyper-vibration during the commute to work, and had my texting thumbs twitching.

Finally, a drastic solution was imposed. The BlackBerry stays in the trunk.

After all, composing a text message saying I’m on the way home could easily become the reason I never make it. It’s just not worth the risk.

Photograph by: Arlen Redekop file