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Driven to distraction

May 2, 2010

We had a big fire in Toronto Thursday, and for a few minutes it looked like a major story – massive plumes of black smoke erupted in the downtown core, and could supposedly be seen as far away as St. Catharines. The media quickly moved into position to cover the towering inferno… and then the fire department showed up and doused the flames in about 15 seconds. So it goes.

But while watching TV coverage, I was struck by the comment that drivers were slowing down on the Gardiner Expressway to look. Well, duh; I think that if I were driving into the city and saw massive plumes of black smoke heading my way, I’d stop to look, too.

And yet, when you hear traffic reports on the radio, you always hear this – drivers are criticized for slowing down to look at an accident. Apparently, they are just a bunch of voyeurs who are doing thousands of commuters a great disservice by slowing down and causing a jam.

Well, I’m sure they are a bunch of voyeurs. We all are. But given what we know about driving and distractions, I don’t see the problem. If there’s an accident with mangled cars and bodies and emergency vehicles with flashing lights – that’s a pretty big honking distraction, and slowing down is warranted. To expect drivers to simply look ahead, hit the accelerator and not notice anything is not realistic.

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