Stop Distracted Driving. Saves Lives

By Jeffrey Wenzel

Published June 1, 2015

Today’s ever-expanding digital era has enabled individuals to interconnect and multitask like never before. On any street in Ontario, motorists can be seen using their mobile devices, whether for making phone calls, texting, checking Twitter feeds or performing Facebook status updates. The unfortunate truth, however, is that these distracting activities do not stop when people enter their vehicles.

Distracted driving includes the use of communication devices. Eating and drinking, talking to passengers, grooming, reading print materials like maps and newspapers, and using a navigation system are also examples of dangerous driving behaviours.

In an attempt to reduce driver distraction, the Ontario legislature passed Bill 118, Countering Distracted Driving and Promoting Green Transportation Act, in 2009. In 2010, Section 78 was added to the Highway Traffic Act. This law prohibits the use of devices with display screens, handheld communication, and entertainment devices while driving. Since the inception of the law, Ontario police services have issued more than 160,000 distracted driving tickets (K. Schmidt, personal communication, May 8, 2015).

In 2013, a study conducted on the prevalence of distracted driving in Canada found that about one-half of respondents indicated that they used their cell phones while driving in the past 12 months (Nurullah, Thomas & Vakillan, 2014). Despite the strict enforcement of distracted driving laws across North America, the use of mobile devices while driving is still occurring far too often. Thus, distracted driving has become the number one road safety concern today.

Another 2014 study examined the effects different types of distracted driving had on novice and experienced drivers. The study revealed that distracted novice drivers are 6.1 times more likely to be involved in a crash or near-crash than non-distracted novice drivers; distracted experienced drivers are 3.3 times more likely to be involved in a crash or near-crash than non-distracted experiences drivers (Klauer, Guo, Simons-Morton, Ouimet, Lee & Dingus, 2014).

No matter how confident or experienced someone may be behind the wheel, driving distracted significantly increases the risk of an accident. In 2013, 35 percent of all fatal accidents in Ontario were attributed to driver inattention, taking the lives of 88 people (K. Schmidt, personal communication, May 8 2015). In fact, the Ontario Provincial Police estimated in March 2015 that for the seventh year in a row, deaths caused by distracted driving are expected to overtake drunk driving fatalities. People are being seriously injured and even killed due to this unnecessary and preventable trend that is plaguing Ontario’s roads. Awareness about the seriousness of this problem and what we as citizens can do to prevent the continued spread of distracted driving is essential.

As a Criminal Justice student at Humber College working towards a career in policing, distracted driving is a concern that I feel needs greater public attention. Promoting safe driving habits is a top priority for police, government, and community safety groups across Ontario.

Raising public awareness is an important part of reducing the prevalence of distracted driving. During the 2015 Police Week this past May, the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police launched its 2015 Drive Safe! R.I.D.E. campaign, focused on distracted driving. A driving simulator and a roll over-vehicle were displayed to emphasize the serious and dangerous consequences of distracted driving. In addition to raising public awareness through these types of campaigns, stricter legislation is being reviewed that will increase fines and add demerit points to distracted driving offences.

Together, the police and community have the power to reverse this destructive trend. The next time you are about to reach for your phone while behind the wheel or playing with your music, think twice. It might just save a life.

Jeffrey Wenzel served as the OACP’s 2015 Placement Student from Humber Institute of Technology and Advanced Learning. He is completing his Bachelor’s Degree in Criminal Justice in 2016.

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Klauer, S., Guo, F., Simons-Morton, B., Ouimet, M., Lee, S., & Dingus, T. (2014). Distracted driving and risk of road crashes among novice and experienced drivers. New England Journal of Medicine, 370(1), 54-59. doi:10.1056/MEJMsa1204142

Nurullah, A., Thomas, J., & Vakilian, F. (2014). The prevalence of cell phone use while driving in a Canadian province. Transportation Research Part F: Traffic Psychology and Behaviour, 19(1), 52-62. doi:10.1016/j.trf.2013.03.006