Got a text you just need to send but you’re behind the wheel of your car on the highway? Soon you may be able pull over and send it a safe texting zone.
Bill 190, a private members bill known as the Safe Texting Zones Act, passed a second reading in the Ontario legislature Thursday.
The bill would enable the Ontario Ministry of Transportation to designate part of the province’s highways as areas where drivers can safely pull over and use their handheld devices instead of resorting to the alarmingly dangerous practice of texting and driving.
The bill has received the support of the Canadian Automobile Association and the Insurance Bureau of Canada, amongst others.
“The Safe Texting Zones Act sends a clear message that there is no longer an excuse for drivers who endanger themselves and those they share the road with by texting and driving,” said Vic Fedeli, Progressive Conservative MPP for Nipissing, and PC Finance Critic. “I look forward to the bill coming before committee.”
In 2013, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo introduced a similar law, creating 91 safe texting zones. Prominent blue and white signs that alerted drivers to their existence.
“Distracted driving is a major problem in this state and it is a problem that is getting worse and it is a problem that costs us lives,” said Cuomo at the time. “One out of 5 accidents today is attributable to distracted driving. Five times more fatalities from distracted driving than from drunk driving, believe it or not. With this new effort, we are sending a clear message to drivers that there is no excuse to take your hands off the wheel and eyes off the road because your text can wait until the next Texting Zone.”
The Safe Texting Zone bill comes in the wake of some grim statistics. In March, the Ontario Provincial Police launched its annual crackdown on distracted driving and reported that in 2015 more people were killed by distracted driving than by any other factor.
According to OPP Commissioner Vince Hawkes, 69 deaths last year resulted from distracted driving, compared to 61 speed-related deaths, 51 seatbelt-related deaths and 45 alcohol-related deaths.
A recent study says the message that distracted driving is especially dangerous isn’t getting through to teenagers, in particular. One study found that 16 to 18 year olds had blurred the line between what is acceptable while driving and what isn’t, suggesting that the very people who might benefit the most from safe texting zones could very well be the last to use them.
“The definition of ‘texting while driving’ is not the same for everyone,” says Catherine McDonald, assistant professor in the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Nursing and in the Perelman School of Medicine Department of Pediatrics, who led a study on teen driving habits that was published in the journal Traffic Injury Prevention. “For example, in their responses the teens would indicate that they didn’t text and drive, but then later would say something like, ‘At a red light, I’ll check my phone.'” The interviewees made a distinction the interviewers hadn’t.
“Teens think about what they do behind the wheel in very different ways than we think about teens behind the wheel,” says Marilyn Sommers, who also worked on the study.