‘It only takes a split second’: victim of distracted driving joins police in long weekend warning

After the recent introduction of three demerit points to Alberta’s legislation, distracted driving has dropped for the first time in five years, but only slightly.

Since the legislation was first introduced in 2011, the number of distracted driving tickets increased annually. Staff Sgt. Paul Stacey attributes this phenomenon to the increase in cell phone usage. The fine increased in 2015 (from $172 to $287 currently). Stacey says it made no difference.

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    “We honestly didn’t see too much of a difference with the fines going up, but so far this year in 2016, with the introduction of the demerit system, we’re down just a little bit in the amount of tickets we’ve written. It’s early but we’re still down a little over 200 tickets from the same time last year,” Stacey said.

    This time last year there were 2,212 distracted driving tickets issued compared to the 1,934 issued in 2016 to date. Though not drastic, the decrease has Stacey optimistic for the future.

    “I’m hopeful, let’s put it that way…We’ve written less tickets and, anecdotally, I’m hearing from my officers that they aren’t seeing quite as much of it. That’s inspiring for me. And personally I haven’t seen as much either, but we still see some and we still are doing the enforcement,” Stacey added.

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    There’s little way of knowing how many crashes are directly the result of distracted driving. It requires drivers to self-disclose whether or not they were distracted at the time of the crash, which is rare. But Stacey said he does expect that roads are getting better.

    “Would I say the roads are a bit safer? I hope so.  And I hope the trend continues, I really do.”

    Kevin Smith’s truck was written off when his vehicle hit a driver he alleges was distracted who went through a red light on Country Hills last January. He echoes Stacey’s sentiment.

    “It happens so quick and people don’t understand. It only takes a split second.”

    Witnesses told police they saw the 17-year-old driver that went through a red light texting before the accident. Kevin Smith’s truck was totaled.

    Smith suffered from broken ribs, whiplash, and extensive soft tissue injuries after the crash. He deals with pain and soreness on a daily basis.

    The impact from the collision extends further into his life as well, as he owns a fitness studio and is a personal trainer who is expected to keep up with his clients. He also has two young and playful children at home. He says despite this lasting effect, he knows that he is lucky to have survived the crash.

    “I know I’m lucky. Pain will subside, the discomfort will subside. But I’m lucky that I’m still walking, playing, and here for my family,” Smith said.

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    Stacey likens the adjustment to distracted driving legislation to seatbelt legislation and  suggests it may take some time.

    “When that [legislation] came in in the 80s almost nobody wore their seatbelt and there was a lot of resistance to that legislation. Now a whole generation or two later, we’re seeing a 95 per cent compliance rate with seatbelt usage.”

    This week is the RCMP’s road safety week. They’re launching an online campaign called “Leave the Phone Alone” and are asking Canadians to commit publicly, with an online pledge, to avoid all distractions while driving.

    Editor’s note: Global News was contacted by someone who claims to be the other driver in the case referenced above. While he admitted to making an unsafe left turn, he denies being distracted.