Vanaja Sivakumar 

SHEC

I know what you must be thinking: another article about the dangers of impaired driving, the same old stats that we have been hearing since high school. Well, the media, alongside groups such as MADD, has done a good job keeping our society constantly aware of the ultimate repercussions of driving under the influence.

So, this article will not be about alcohol or drugs but about the distractions you do not really think about, the ones that have crept into your everyday lives. Though they may seem harmless at first, they can cause just as much damage as drugs and alcohol when used in combination with driving and in some cases, even more so.

BBMing, IMing and Texting are getting more popular and have become a part of our everyday lives. Though many adults have become accustomed to the occasional text, our generation has been the most affected to a point that one could call it, dare I say, an epidemic. Many people would say this habit is relatively harmless in that it actually promotes networking for job searching and other benefits.

Until recently, however, very few have recognized the dangers of these habits while driving. A new survey conducted by Stats Canada said that 8/10 Canadian drivers were distracted behind the wheel. Unfortunately, most of these drivers were between the ages of 18-30, a large portion of our university’s age group, and cell phones are to blame.

“We think we’re invincible,” says fourth-year Life Science student Fariha Husain. “We all know that being distracted while we drive is a bad idea yet the common mentality is ‘I’m a good driver, it’s not going to happen to me. I mean I look up after every word I text, that is ridiculous!”

The list unfortunately does not end at cellphones for culprits that cause distracted driving.  Elaborate car accessories, such as GPS systems and iPod docks, which are supposed to make driving easier, have escalated the problem. Part of the issue for GPS devices is that drivers rely on them too heavily and follow its directions blindly, even in some cases, right into oncoming traffic. Finding the right song to match your mood while driving has regrettably become more important than keeping your eyes on the road and your hands on the wheel.

A study conducted at Drexel University in the Department of Computer Science in Philadelphia received results that showed that selecting media on an iPod had a significant effect on driver performance as measured by lateral deviation from lane centre (translation: not being able to drive straight). Similar results were also seen with cell phone use and driving.

Now onto a happier note: the general populace are slowly becoming aware of these issues and fortunately, are reacting and doing things about it. Laws not only in Canada but all over the world are being passed prohibiting the use of cell phones or other electrical device use while driving and hefty fines are being placed on the delusional people that still do.

The law is not the only venue being used for change – celebrities such as Oprah are getting in on the “No Phone Zone” in cars, and they are proving to be quite effective.

The most interesting solution that has been used to solve this rising problem is exercising technology to combat technology. Applications in the car and cell phones are becoming available to prevent the use of electronics while driving.

For an example, Textecution is an Android application aimed to restrict the user from sending text messages while driving. It costs roughly $10/month and works by tapping into the phone’s GPS system. If Textecution determines that the vehicle is moving over 10 km/h, it disables the phone’s texting capabilities. Similar features have been installed in GPS systems, where it detects how fast a vehicle is moving and disables the user from using the device until the vehicle has come to a full stop.

Being aware of the problem is the first step. To gain further insight on this issue and witness the consequences of impaired driving, McMaster’s Student Health Education Centre (SHEC) and the Emergency First Response Team (EFRT) will be hosting an Impaired Driving Event on March 26 in front of University Hall every hour starting at 10:20 a.m. This is an event that everyone should see so that no one has to experience it.

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