Just shut up and drive, already!

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They’re called “hobo cops”. Impersonating homeless people, they hang around busy intersections in cities from Ottawa to Chilliwack, waiting to pounce on the burgeoning population of distracted drivers.

In Edmonton, last month – just before Ontario police announced a 30-day crack-down on idiots who text and drive – one cop dressed in shorts and a blue hoodie held a handmade, box-cardboard sign that might have read, “I’m down on my luck and could use a few dollars. Won’t you help?”

In fact, it declared, “Hello, I am a police officer, if you are on your cellphone right now, you are about to get a ticket.”

Busted, sucker. I like the sound of that. It’s a shame that more people in Moncton don’t agree with me. These days, the Hub City could use a whole brigade of hobo cops.

This community’s love affair with the internal combustion engine famously borders on the fanatical. It boasts (if that is the right word) one of the highest per capita car ownership rates in Canada, as well as one of the highest per capita number of Tim Hortons coffee shops. (That’s not as much of a non sequitur as you might think).

Moncton is also the site, every summer, of The Atlantic Nationals Automotive Extravaganza, which bills itself as “Canada’s largest auto event and Canada’s ‘most fun’ car show. For four days, upwards of 2,000 cars and tens of thousands of spectators will turn the city of Moncton into a hot rod and classic car paradise.”

Now, add to the mix Moncton’s progressive attitude towards mobile communications technology. The downtown is one continuous Wi-Fi zone, free to all with 3G capabilities. I am not aware of any research on the subject, but I would bet my wife’s HTC super phone that the international Intelligent Communities Forum’s 2009 seventh pick for smartest city in the world is also home to one of the highest per capita ownership rates for cellular devices in the country.

Anyone see a problem? Anyone, at all?

Not long ago, I was sitting at a stop in the downtown waiting for the light. When it turned, I fumbled with the gas pedal and hesitated. I’m glad I did, for apparently out of nowhere a imbecile in a maroon sedan barreled through his red light, texting to God knows who from God knows where.

One hour later, I was on foot at a crosswalk, waiting for break in the traffic. It arrived. . . sort of. I was halfway to the other side, when a cretin behind the wheel of a yellow convertible zoomed passed the stopped cars to the right of him and through the pedestrian lane, mere inches from my toe tips. He was gabbing merrily away into the electronic ether.

Once upon a time, I could safely count on one, maybe two, potentially life-threatening altercations with cars in any given month. Now, not a day passes when I forget to count my lucky stars: Today, thank the Lord, I did not get creamed.

And, in the words of Alissa Sklar – a Ph.D. who ran risk(within)reason, a Montreal consultancy project focused on teens, technology and risky behaviours, in 2011 – “it’s only going to get worse.”

Says one of her blog posts from that year: “According to the Canadian Automobile Association texting recently overtook impaired driving as the No. 1 safety concern among drivers. And since 95 per cent of Canadians between 14 and 17 send or receive text messages (according to a poll quoted in the Globe and Mail), this is a problem that is only likely to grow. . .An experiment conducted by students in three Canadian studies involved standing on busy intersections at rush hour and counting drivers simultaneously engaged in distracting activities. They counted a total of 802 distractions in one hour, with 199 taking place in Toronto, 314 in Montreal, and 289 in Moncton.Texting while driving ranked third in the total number of distractions (after eating/drinking and talking to passengers).”

Which raises the question: Why is there never a hobo cop around when you need one?

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