The Toronto Police did not shy away from drawing attention to the dangers of distracted driving recently when they once again used a hearse to kick off their latest distracted driving blitz.

The week-long campaign was called "The Text Or Call That Could End It All" and was designed to "highlight all dangerous activities associated with drivers who talk, text, type, dial or email using hand-held communication and entertainment devices," police said in a press release. Both marked and unmarked vehicles were paying special attention and looking for drivers that were distracted at the wheel.

"Distracted drivers are a safety risk to themselves and other road users," the release continued.

Police Call Distracted Driving-Related Deaths Preventable

There's no doubt police are concerned about distracted driving, which now contributes to more deaths on the road than impaired driving and speeding. But at a driver level, the message doesn't seem to be getting across. In Toronto alone, police have laid 82,000 distracted driving-related charges since 2011, suggesting drivers are still reaching for those phones when they're behind the wheel.

One traffic services officer we spoke to last year told Kanetix that distracted driving-related fatalities are senseless and preventable. He'd seen it too many times, tragedies that have a ripple effect on families and communities alike. The officer spoke of the frustrations he felt when he'd look at a dashboard and see a phone smashed against it. "One loss is one too many," he said.

Often the first responders to the scene of a collision, it's no wonder police are cracking down. Not only are they the ones who have to bear witness to the aftermath, but it's also up to them to notify next of kin.

Police & Communities Coming Together To Raise Awareness About Distracted Driving

So maybe this is why police are stepping things up, launching distracted driving blitzes and, in the case of Nova Scotia, special committees in an attempt to reduce the number of collisions caused by distracted driving.

Nova Scotia's Kings County Distracted Driving Committee launched early this February. The group of volunteers consists of members from the general public, the RCMP, Kentville Police Service, businesses and students. Recently, they launched a "Focus and Drive" education initiative to spread awareness about the dangers of distracted driving.

"We want people to see our slogan and think twice before picking up their phone behind the wheel," said Constable Kelli Gaudet, Kings District RCMP & Distracted Driving Committee member. "Every driver in Nova Scotia has a role in keeping our roadways safe so please put your cell phone away so you can truly focus and drive."

Learning From Nova Scotia's Distracted Driving Laws

In many ways, Nova Scotia is setting a precedent for how distracted driving should be addressed in Canada. In addition to the committee, they also have the toughest distracted driving penalties in the country.

As of February 1, fines increased from $176.45 for a first offence to $233.95, and from $348.95 for a third or subsequent offence to $578.95. Additionally, four demerit points will now be added to any driver convicted.

Penalties for distracted driving vary across the country, ranging from small fines to demerit points. Ontario is looking to have fines raised from $280 to $1,000, with the addition of three demerit points. That proposal was re-introduced into legislature last October, but no verdict has yet been reached.

Are Tougher Penalties the Answer?

It's too early to tell what impact stricter penalties will have on drivers in Nova Scotia, so this will ultimately be a case study in the effectiveness of tougher legislation.

But the blitzes and the formation of police-partnered community advocacy groups are a sign that distracted driving is becoming a top priority. Maybe it's time drivers heed the warnings, before it's too late.

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