Takes time to entrench good habits

The primary culprit in distraction, of course, is the seemingly ubiquitous cell phone

A cohort of Grade 11 students was given the virtual keys to a simulated ride last week, in an ICBC program designed to educate our youngest drivers on the dangers of distracted driving.

The primary culprit in distraction, of course, is the seemingly ubiquitous cell phone, or pad, or other digital extension that now falls under the simple catch-all of “device.”

It may seem today’s teens spend so much time hunched over these devices, thumbs dancing with the intricacy of Astaire and Rogers across the dance floor of the keyboard, that the driving might prove the bigger distraction.

Then again, those of us capable of invoking Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers may not fully grasp the degree to which our youth have incorporated technology into their day-to-day lives, even as the pace of its advance seems to speed exponentially.

We may also view our own past through the distorting gauze of nostalgia.

Yes, the good, old days. When dad’s only distraction was perhaps reaching to turn the dial of the AM radio for a clearer signal. While firing up a cigarette, balancing a can of suds between his legs and reaching into the back seat to separate bickering siblings who had no idea actual seat belts had been tucked beneath the seatbacks since the day dad drove off the dealer’s lot.

Yes, a lot has changed over the last 50 years or so. Our automobiles are now rolling computers, tricked out with onboard diagnostics, GPS/map units, Bluetooth capability, backup warning sensors and cameras, movie screens and power everything.

And, of course, cup holders.

But somewhere along the way, it stopped being OK to use that cup holder for beer. And it became a lot less cool to light up a smoke.

And seat belts made their way from between the cushions and into law.

None of this was accomplished by the simple stroke of a bureaucrat’s pen. All of these changes resulted from long-term, focussed campaigns of the kind that take a generation or more to convert an idea into a social norm.

ICBC’s distracted driving program is exactly that kind of campaign. It’s reaching young adults just as they’re beginning to drive, and it’s delivered in the digital format in which they thrive. Its lesson is simple: enjoy your device outside the car.

When you slip behind the wheel, the road ahead is your only dance partner.