by Cedric Hughes, Barrister & Solicitor with regular weekly contributions from Leslie McGuffin, LL.B.   

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Texting While Driving Is For Many Just A Form of Entertainment

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News of a recent anti-texting-and-driving campaign in Citrus County, Florida prompted Road Rules to google images for ‘university student who died in a texting driving crash.’  This search retrieved a bottomless set of loops: a personable woman or man followed by mangled vehicles, a screen shot of a ‘final text’ punctuated, periodically, by a diagrammatic display of the latest statistics on distracted driving.

The Citrus County campaign is another such ‘loop’ focusing on 19-year-old Angelina Holloway who on April 18, 2016 at 2:11 pm, while driving home, allegedly texted her boyfriend, "I can't wait to see you this weekend!"  She then veered off the road, crashed into a tree, and died on impact.  Online reports say that Marvalene Corlett, Angelina Holloway's mother was quoted as follows: "When I found her phone the next day, it was in the rubble in her car under everything. …It was devastating because she knew better. … She was going to go to Uganda for missionary.  She was excited for that, and three days later is when life turned for all of us.”

The campaign displays Angelina Holloway's portrait and the text message that took her life on highway signs.  Deputy Michele Tewell, who helped launch this campaign said, “I want it to hit the heart. I want [everyone] to see that it's a reality, that it does happen. … It took Angelina's life, but it also impacted her family and all her friends, so it's not worth it.”  Deputy Tewell also said that while the annual campaign “typically focuses on DUI awareness, …with traffic crashes up by 17 percent this year in Citrus County, it was necessary to incorporate texting and driving awareness as well.”

The above-noted search was also prompted by the repeated inquiries Road Rules receives concerning simply holding a cellphone —resting it on your lap, for instance—while only stopped at a red light.  Being ticketed for such an offence is unfair we are told, and being fined $368 and four penalty points ($175) for a total of $543 for a first offence is disproportionate to the offence, or some such equivalent.

The link between such a benign and habitual act—simply holding your cellphone without even touching it with your hands—while driving, mind you, and sending a simple text and then suffering fatality on the road, some may say, ‘does not compute!’  It takes unusual powers of persuasion to convince the ticketed offender that their ‘unlucky’ encounter with an observant police officer has quite possibly been a life-saving stroke of good fortune.  Being ticketed and paying the penalty probably does tend to alter behavior and reinforce compliance with the law no matter how ‘mundane’ and ‘inappropriate’ and ‘undeserved’ the offence may seem.  

Of course, it must be noted that teenagers aren’t the only category of drivers prone to distracted driving. Drivers in all age categories may be texting enthusiasts.  The ICBC website reports that “94% of BC drivers surveyed consider texting while driving to be risky, including 82% indicating extremely risky.  [BUT] approximately 2 out of 5 BC drivers admit to using their phone at least some of the time while driving.”

One step in the right direction may be to consider how much of our texting is essential.  It seems that for many people texting is just a form of entertainment and has no practical value whatsoever.  We would not play solitaire while driving – or hopefully not.

Cedric Hughes

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