Drivers find the new distracted and impaired driving rules hard to swallow

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Sabrina Almeida

The new rules for distracted and drunk driving dominated conversations in my social circle last weekend. One discussion got fairly heated with some saying that it was becoming a “police state” while others saw it as a “money grab” opportunity for the cops!!!

Until this time, I hadn’t given much thought to how the changes might impact personal freedoms (truthfully some rather bad habits) so to speak. With deadly motor accidents headlining the daily news for a number of months now, I warmly welcomed any steps to protect drivers and pedestrians. Astonishingly, I was among the minority supporting the recent measures… at least during these rather intense discussions. And the only one in favour of them at a gathering last Friday night.

Being on vacation the entire Christmas season, I had virtually tuned off the news. So, I missed cues about drinking coffee, eating and putting makeup being considered distracted driving. I recall watching one such report sent to me on a WhatsApp group chat, but only for a few minutes. It didn’t matter to me as I didn’t do any of these in my car. But I did inform my husband and sons about the changes and didn’t let them eat while they were behind the wheel on our road trip to Ottawa. Of course, social media had already informed them of the dire consequences.

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I tried to make sense of the examples being shared by friends of how the new laws might infringe on our rights. To me not drinking coffee or eating while behind the wheel was not an overstep. In my opinion, spilling a hot drink on one’s self, navigating the wrapper of some fast food or chowing down a burger with just one hand on the wheel could all cause a serious accident. Surely, we could contain our hunger or dependence on caffeine till we reached our destination? Pull to the side to eat if the hunger was that debilitating…

It is no surprise that friends who were protesting the changes had simply got used to beautifying themselves and eating breakfast while driving. “It’s the only way I can accomplish these tasks,” one of them said sheepishly admitting that it afforded her 30 minutes more of sleep. And I felt like I was missing out on the rest.

Subsequently, I was informed that Tim Horton’s and MacDonald’s might have something to say about the ban on coffee as it would affect their sales!!! After all, most Canadians drive through one of them for coffee and/or breakfast on their way to work every morning. The winding lines at almost all Timmy’s on my route are proof of that. I’ve always wondered why these people didn’t drink coffee at home.

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As for dolling yourself up while driving, there is simply no logical case for that.

As I scanned news reports on Monday, I discovered that drinking coffee was not among the don’ts and couldn’t find anything on makeup either. However, any activity that caused you to take your eyes of the road and hands off the wheel can be deemed as a distraction. That’s common sense I thought. But I guess the big news here is that Tim Horton’s and MacDonald’s needn’t worry about their numbers now.

Next came the impaired driving laws and the fact that you could be subjected to a breathalyzer without probable cause. Having known one too many people who get behind the wheel when way passed the allowance, I’m all for it. The danger far outweighs any ‘sacrifice’ you might be making. I’m certain the dissenters would feel differently if they or a loved one had to suffer the consequences, like Sanket Dogra or Jennifer Neville-Lake did. It’s what MADD has been fighting against for years.

Among the many concerns about the misuse of this new measure was that it could become a tool for racial profiling. Another big fear is that a nasty neighbour, relative or rival could report you out of spite and the onus is on you to prove that you are innocent. Fuelled perhaps by a news report that police could show up on your doorstep up to two hours after you reach home and demand a breath sample. I admit this is a little scary.

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Many are expecting the new laws to have constitutional challenges or that the sheer numbers of charges tying up the courts will force some amendments. Legal experts don’t see that happening.

What Canadians ought to know is that having blood alcohol levels below the mandated 0.08 will not get you off the hook if your abilities are impaired. In fact, the MTO says you could face serious consequences if your BAC is between 0.05 and 0.08.

The safest and smartest thing to do is stay within the limits, have a designated driver or simply call Uber or Lyft. Could you live with injuring or killing someone?

Safety aside, it is also cheaper than paying the fines and the penalties insurance will impose on you if charged with any of these offences. Rates are stifling as it is!

Get with the program! -CINEWS

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