Thursday, September 6, 2012

go naked YYC shill

This morning's swim was the subject of considerable internal debate. I was feeling a bit beat up from yesterday's hill (of death) run, and the hard core yoga class, and wasn't sure at all how my shoulders would feel about a swim. But I went anyways.

It's downright weird swimming 25 m in the training pool, after swimming 50 m in it all summer. Still it went really well. No, seriously, I stretched a bit before hand, and promised my shoulders I'd go easy on them. Within the first length I found a groove and settled in. I was hardly breathing at all, and my shoulders weren't minding a bit. The last couple lengths of the 1000 m were a little sloppy so I stopped there. 18:45, not even trying, not breathing hard, not really working it at all. I'm pretty pleased. Stretched out my shoulders and back. I'm glad I went.

I know what I'm doing on Sept 29 and 30. There are tours and open houses in many facilities throughout Calgary. Check it out, there are 35 seriously cool places to visit and see behind the scenes. I love this sort of stuff. It's unfortunate that I don't think I can visit them all, no matter how carefully I plan. I'm tempted to visit Pine Creek and see if anyone I used to work with is down there. I badly want to visit Talisman Centre, that could be several hours right there. Maybe the Energy Centre. Or the Traffic Management Centre. What would you like to go see?

On the way home the Police Chief was on the radio talking about increasing the punishment for distracted driving. As it stands now, there is a $172 fine for using your phone while driving, including at red lights. It's one of those laws more honoured in the breach than the observance thereof. There have been some serious incidents from people texting and driving.

The Chief wants to start discussion leading towards demerit points, rather than just a fine. Drivers aren't getting the message, he says, so we need to up the punishment. They only handed out 4000 tickets in the last year which is only 10 a day. That doesn't seem like much, considering a cop standing on a downtown street could probably do nothing all day but write tickets for that infraction, with no time for coffee or doughnuts. I counted cell phone violations by drivers today, starting from leaving the office. I didn't even get to the corner before I spotted my first one. I lost count at a dozen and not even half way home yet. I feared just looking was making me a distracted driver...

Don't get me wrong. I am completely convinced that almost nobody can talk on the phone and drive city traffic traffic safely. I don't care if it's hands free or not; the problem isn't the hands, it's the brain, or lack of it. I am completely convinced that nobody at all can text someone and drive safely while they are doing it. Nobody. Anywhere. End of story.

That said, I think the current take on distracted driving legislation is wrong headed. It itemizes a number of activities mainly related to cell phone usage and calls them distractions. The problem is that the list of things that could be distractions is nearly infinite. Some cell phone activities are no more distracting than fiddling with the car radio or CD player, and much less distracting than squabbling kids.

Driving an motor vehicle safely is a complex task that takes a variable amount of attention depending on circumstances, and every driver reacts differently to those circumstances. A situation can go instantly from requiring only moderate attention to one requiring all the attention and focus the driver can summon. A small fraction of a second can be all the difference between a tragedy and just needing to change your pants.

Some drivers can barely cope with even the easiest circumstances and plan their routes to avoid Deerfoot, Blackfoot, Crowchild, Glenmore, and downtown.  Others know how to read the situation, look ahead to avoid problems, maintain space around their vehicles, and never seem to be affected unduly by traffic. Others (far too many others) outdrive their actual skill levels, driving too fast for the situation, not seeing pedestrians or cyclists, and making poor decisions. Whenever you hear a driver say that something happened to them "all of a sudden" they are announcing they are part of that third group.

So rather than trying to write a law that outlaws distracting activities, and provides penalties for engaging in them, regardless of the circumstances or the driver's skill, we ought to take a two step approach.

The first step is educating people and helping them understand just how distracting these activities could be. A simulator is a perfect environment. Let someone drive, and try to text, and test their reactions. Chalk up how many virtual pedestrians they maim. How many children they run over. Simulate being struck by the truck they didn't see as they run a light they thought was still green, and shake the simulator hard enough to leave bruises from the seat belts. Apparently there are still some idiots that don't wear seat belts, we deal with that in the simulator too. I'm quite happy to see anyone that stupid leave the simulator with broken bones and a non-renewed drivers license.

The second part is to make it legal for the insurance companies to deny coverage to anyone proved to be texting or talking on a cell phone just before an incident. Make the automatic assumption that the person on the cell phone caused the incident, and let them be liable for all costs. All the injury costs. All the repair costs, including to the roadway infrastructure, which is astonishingly expensive. All the lost income costs. Let them be sued into bankruptcy and beyond, garnisheeing say 10% of their gross wages before taxes for the rest of their life. Never drive a motor vehicle again. I could even be convinced they have demonstrated they are too stupid to be an adult, so take away their right to vote, their right to legally sign papers, their right to buy booze, and whatever else we don't allow kids to do. Put that all up front when the drivers license is issued, and they sign a paper saying they've read that.

Whoa, you're saying, isn't that a bit harsh? Well, on average one Albertan is killed, and 65 are injured every day in motor vehicle collisions (source). Almost every one of which is preventable. If you are family to one of those people, you probably don't think it's harsh at all. The conservative estimate is that motor vehicle collisions cost us $4 billion (with a B) a year.

There are about 3 million Albertans. Let's just say 2/3rds of them pay taxes. That is 2,000 a year in additional tax. Of course, not all of that comes out of the taxpayer pocket, but it comes out of somebody's pocket. Shareholders. Employees. Ordinary people paying deductible expenses. Foregone income.

There is a brand new state of the art general hospital opening in south Calgary not far from where I live. It cost about 1.2 billion dollars. Stop the collisions and we could have 3 new hospitals like that, every year. Of course we wouldn't just buy hospitals. What else costs a billion dollars? That would get us a pretty amazing oil refinery, and we wouldn't need to build a pipeline to ship money and jobs to China, risking some of the prettiest landscape on earth. We could twin highway 63. A few years collision free could buy us a bullet train between Calgary and Edmonton (source). Maybe when we learn how to build it we could extend it to Fort McMurray for not too much more money. The point is that a billion dollars is serious money to throw at almost any kind of a project, short of invading Iraq or the like.

The other part of the problem is that the current regime requires that a police officer catch the driver cell-phone-handed, as it were.  I suspect this is what is behind the increase in distracted driving - people figure they'll get away with it. If they don't, well, $172 isn't that much money for lots and lots of Albertans. A great many people make that much before their morning coffee break. What do demerits or any other punishment matter if you aren't caught? Even if they are caught, where they'd pay a fine, they will go to court to fight the demerits. They matter for insurance. That just clogs up our court system even more.

So, as earnest as the Police Chief was, and much as it sounds like a good idea to apply demerits, I'm not going to support it.


  1. Huh... this would all be solved if cars could drive themselves... But yes. I've been riding to and from work (35 mile round trip), and I have started noticing how freaking scary people are again. I feel pretty safe in my Audi, but on my bike, I am pretty nervous. Yesterday, a guy swerved into the bike lane. I saw him coming (because I am paranoid) and slowed down before he went into my lane. He wasn't on a phone. He was READING A PAPERBACK BOOK. Seriously. Scary. The reason my trip is 35 miles round trip is so I can ride on dirt roads and stick to the bike path as much as possible... if I went straight through town I doubt it would be 30 miles,

  2. Oh, sorry. I forgot you were in Canada... My round trip is 56km...

  3. Cars are almost driving themselves. I blogged about this a while back. Google the Google driverless car. Thanks for the metric love! Miles I still sort of get, but the other day I had to look up how many feet in a mile. Don't ask.

  4. Oh, I only know that because I live near Denver (the "mile high" city) and everything is 5280 this and 5280 that... But let's complicate it more.. there are three feet, three inches in a meter... so... I kid, I kid. Boyfriend switched his bike computer to metric because it "makes more sense"... I have been considering following suit.


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