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Hamilton steps up messaging to combat distracted driving amid rising collisions

Hamilton's mayor says more educational campaigns are set to target motorists susceptible to inattentive driving behavior with related crash data suggest it was a contributing factor in 19.1 per cent of fatal and injury collisions. Don Mitchell / Global News

The head of a leading traffic safety organization says it’s time authorities find a balance between educating drivers about the risks of distracted driving and the consequences for getting caught.

Ontario Safety League (OSL) president Brian Patterson believes education campaigns on the dangers of distracted driving should be delivered in the same manner as impaired driving since unattentive driving has become the leading cause of death on Ontario roads.

“I don’t think we need to teach people what the fine is for distracted driving, we need to teach them what the consequences are,” Patterson told Global News.

Read more: Lane reduction, new stop light rules are biggest changes to Hamilton’s Main Street

In a statement on Monday, Hamilton mayor Fred Eisenberger said distracted driving would be highlighted in the city’s upcoming annual Vision Zero campaign reminding motorists to “deeply consider driving behaviour.”

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Hamilton police say videos featuring interactions with motorists will continue to be regularly posted to social media channels with a focus on “departure preparation” as a key message in combating inattentive driving.

The promises come following an annual city traffic report revealing distracted driving contributed to 19.1 per cent of fatal and injury collisions in the city between 2017 and 2021 with about 18.4 per cent of all collisions attributed to inattention.

In a statement on Monday, Hamilton police said those collisions are likely higher due to difficulties in identifying whether a driver, cyclist or pedestrian were distracted.

Patterson says drivers the OSL deals with following citations for distracted driving don’t believe they have a problem and instead feel frustrated they were caught.

“They don’t perceive their driving as the problem, they perceive the driving of everybody else as the problem,” Paterson remarked.

“When you discuss the conduct that got them the ticket that they’re dealing with, they suddenly realize that was a pretty stupid thing to do.”

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So far in 2022, officers have issued 123 tickets related to distracted driving. Last year, 240 such tickets were issued across the city.

In 2019, Ontario passed more stringent fines for inattentive driving which include a three-day licence suspension, a fine of up to $1,000 and three demerit points.

A fine for using a handheld device while driving is $155 plus three demerit points.

Read more: Work to enhance road safety on Main, King Streets has begun

Patterson says three demerit points impacts insurance costs for drivers and potentially whether a personal vehicle can even be insured. Lost points, he says, could hinder employment if a job relies on personal transportation.

“I had a dad say to me his son won’t be employable until October because he had three demerit points off his license affecting the occupation he’s trained for the last five years,” Patterson said.

The province’s 2021 road safety report put distracted driving 15.2 per cent higher than impairment as a leading cause for road fatalities in Ontario.

Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) recorded 315 deaths on the province’s major roadways last year, marking a three per cent increase from 2020.

Speed-related deaths reached a 10-year high with 81 fatalities in 2021.

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