Distracted driving deadlier than impaired driving, police say ahead of holiday crackdown
Fiddling with a cellphone while behind the wheel is proving to be deadlier than drunk driving -- at least according to statistics emerging from one province ahead of a campaign to crack down on distracted drivers.
So far, 47 of the 177 deaths on Ontario highways involved drivers who were distracted. That’s in contrast to the 32 people who died in impaired driving-related deaths.
Though there are distracted-driving laws in place in all provinces and territories except Nunavut, police and car safety advocates say Canadian drivers are not getting the message when comes to being alert and focused behind the wheel.
It’s a message Ontario Provincial Police hope to instil on highways over Labour Day weekend, when they target motorists suspected of impaired and aggressive driving. They are paying particular attention to distracted driving.
While authorities continue to grapple with those motorists who eat, drink or apply makeup while behind the wheel, one of the biggest problems remains texting or talking on a cellphone.
“Most people would not get into a vehicle with an impaired driver and they are at as much risk in the presence of a distracted driver as an impaired driver,” Chief Superintendent Don Bell, commander of the OPP Highway Safety Division, said in a statement announcing the blitz.
“If drivers do not have the good sense to stop this dangerous behaviour on their own, I encourage passengers to take responsibility for their own safety by speaking up.”
Kristine Simpson, manager of public affairs at the Canadian Automobile Association, says the organization has noticed a spike in fatalities nationwide due to distracted driving.
“Two years ago, CAA research showed that among young Canadians, distracted driving was one of their biggest safety concerns, and it hasn’t gone down since,” she told CTV News Channel Friday.
According to RCMP, distracted driving was a contributing factor in 104 collision fatalities in British Columbia in 2010. And, international research shows that 20-30 per cent of all collisions involve driver distraction.
Simpson said it should come as no surprise that distracted driving accidents are occurring more frequently than impairment-related ones. Handling a phone, for example, requires eye and hand coordination.
“The moment you take your eyes off the road and your hand off the wheel you don’t have your full attention on the road, which can pose a danger to you and those around you,” she said.
With laws and enforcement in place, public education can help make distracted driving as socially unacceptable as impaired driving.
“It took a while before people actually saw impaired driving as the ‘not-so-cool’ thing to do,” she said. “Now we need to get at that point with distracted driving.”
Simpson acknowledged that taking a swig from a bottle of water or changing the radio station while driving is not necessarily risky, but generally, motorists should avoid multitasking while behind the wheel.