The most dangerous kind of distracted driving

The culture of entitlement makes drivers a new kind of menace

Working in traffic enforcement for a quarter of a century has exposed RCMP Cpl. Chris Little to bad driving in all of its manifestations. Recently, though, he’s noticed a concerning, and deadly, trend: the self-preoccupied driver in a steel-and-glass bubble, oblivious to the outside world. The telltale texter (head down, stopped on a green light) is the least of it. Little, an officer with Strathcona Traffic Services in Strathcona County, Alta., has pulled over drivers brushing their teeth, applying makeup, even reading a novel. “A 300-page book, balanced on the steering wheel,” he says. Car-as-mobile-kitchen is another theme: he pulled over one man eating a bowl of cereal while trying to drive with his knees; another man was eating waffles from a plate with a knife and fork. Then there was the solo female driver taking driver distraction to a new level: “A call came in that a vehicle was driving erratically,” Little says. When I pulled her over, her clothing was around her knees and she was flushed. You get the picture.” She was charged with careless driving.

It’s a roadscape familiar to Angelo DiCicco, general manager of Young Drivers of Canada (GTA). A driving instructor for three decades, DiCicco is also director of operations at Young Drivers’ new five-acre advanced driving centre in Markham, Ont., which offers rehab for drivers involved in serious crashes and also focuses on the perils of distracted driving, or, as DiCicco puts it, “to prove to people that multi-tasking is a lie.” People are far more stupid than they think, he says: “Just having your eyes open isn’t enough to see a dangerous situation; your brain has to be engaged.”

The fact that distracted driving now accounts for more fatal car accidents than impaired driving hasn’t made a dent in driving habits, says DiCicco, who sees the rise of “assertive” and now “aggressive” driving over the past 15 years as equally narcissistic and dangerous. It’s not unusual for impatient drivers behind a nervous novice trying to turn left to pull ahead and cut the new driver off, he reports.

Such “me-first” behaviour—disregard for traffic signs, failing to signal, lane-hogging, crowding intersections, sailing through red lights—has led to a culture of driving entitlement squarely at odds with the spirit of co-operation needed to navigate the impromptu societies that occur when motor vehicles share space. That has made driving, the most dangerous and behaviourally complex activity most people engage in on a daily basis, a cultural menace that affects not only drivers but pedestrians and neighbourhoods as the spillover effects puts cyclists on sidewalks and pedestrians at peril.

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