calling government time for straight answers

The Yukon government is asking citizens for their thoughts on ... ah, just a second ... ... phone's ringing ... hang on....... Alright, where were we ...? Right, the Yukon government is asking for opinions on distracted drivers.

The Yukon government is asking citizens for their thoughts on … ah, just a second … … phone’s ringing … hang on…….

Alright, where were we …? Right, the Yukon government is asking for opinions on distracted drivers.

At some expense – about $8,000 (apparently, that’s how much cabinet values consultation) – it drafted a six-question survey and mailed it to every home.

The inane questionnaire kicks off with a doozy.

1. Various electronic devices are being used by some drivers inside vehicles. Which of these activities do you think are acceptable distractions while driving?

Right off the bat we have to ask: There are acceptable distractions while driving?

Assuming there are, the survey then lists talking on a cellphone, using a laptop, watching a video on an electronic device, listening to an MP3 player through headphones, using a PDA (apparently that means an iPhone or Blackberry, which are, er, cellphones) texting on a cellphone or playing games on an electronic gaming device (which also could be a laptop, cellphone, or MP3 player).

Or, failing all that, you can add another gizmo the survey overlooked …

geez, it gets so complicated.

What if you’re listening to the phone using headphones?

Or playing a game on a phone. Is that a distraction? If so, is it an acceptable one?

Or reading a book, magazine or letter, which aren’t electronic at all. Is that acceptable? Maybe, unless you are using an e-book reader.

Bottom line, the survey is a bloody waste of time, energy and $8,000.

What Yukon really needs is someone to make a rational decision – something cabinet seems incapable of doing.

Provinces across the country have examined the issue and drafted solutions.

If Yukon officials used any web-enabled electronic device and tapped a search engine (like Google) they would have found hundreds of documents, like, for example, a comprehensive 51-page study on cellphone usage and motor vehicle accidents, produced by Work Safe BC in 2009.

It cites several studies that have shown a correlation between cellphone use and accidents.

It cites the wild-assed growth of cellphones in Canada, to 19.9 million in 2007 from less than 100,000 in 1987, as a possible problem. “This rapid growth in cellphone ownership has not been accompanied by regulations governing their use in the general population or the workplace.”

Transport Canada studies peg handheld cellphone use while driving at about six per cent – and that figure would have been much higher if handsfree use was tracked.

Using a phone while driving can cause physical (as you look at the device and press its keys) and cognitive (REALLY? YOU JUST BROKE MY CHINA CAT SCULPTURES!!!) distractions.

And handsfree phones do little to lessen a distraction.

In the end, after all its research, Work Safe BC concluded legislation wasn’t the best way to go. But, recognizing more than 100 BC residents die every year and thousands are hospitalized as a result of cellphone use in cars, the province enacted legislation anyway – joining Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, PEI, Quebec and Ontario.

BC put together a pretty straightforward law: A driver must not hold, operate, communicate or watch the screen of a handheld electronic communication device. A driver cannot send or receive text messages or e-mail while driving, or compute or process any data.

Get caught, and you’re hit with a $167 fine.

Seems pretty straightforward to us.

And, lo and behold, residents started putting away their cellphones while driving.

This year, a University of Victoria study that observed 8,000 vehicles at 40 locations found the number of people talking on the phone while driving had fallen to 75 from 350 in 2009.

So, if society deems driving while texting or playing Donkey Kong to be dangerous and sets down a law to ban the activity, people tend to listen.

Lawmaking – forcing people to wear seatbelts and helmets, prohibiting drinking while driving and barring ATV use in fragile environments – works.

But you have to make a decision to do it.

In the Yukon, cabinet seems unwilling to do so.

Instead, they fabricate consultation exercises to delay making decisions. And laws.

Unless, of course, they want to pass something like the Yukon Civil Forfeiture Act, sell off Yukon Energy to ATCO, or build community hospitals. Then there’s no consultation at all – they simply do what they want.

Cellphone use in cars is a known distraction, and people will continue texting, talking and crashing until a law is passed banning the practice. Provinces across the country recognize this.

So, rather than sending out ridiculous questionnaires, our elected government officials should simply bring forward a law banning cellphone use in cars.

Or not.

But in either case, they should explain the reasons for their decision.

Then, at the very least, we can properly assess their ability to govern. (Richard Mostyn)