Texting and driving: Distracted driving is fast becoming the number one killer on the highways. Some say it should be treated like drunk driving.
What will it take to prevent it: harsher penalties or clever campaigns?
With guest host Ted Blades
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When the province of Nova Scotia announced this summer
that distracted driving ...
such as talking on cellphones and texting ...
has become the number one killer on their roads,
it surprised many people.
Provincial and national campaigns
to raise awareness of the dangers of drunk driving and speeding
have succeeded in hammering home the risks,
and it all seems to make sense.
But cellphones ...those little companions we've become
so dependent on ...
Well.... as it turns out
distracted driving is fast becoming the number one killer
on Canadian roads.
Saskatchewan preceded Nova Scotia
in it becoming the main cause of highway deaths there.
And in Ontario
it has surpassed drunk driving
to become the number two killer
According to Transport Canada's National Collision Database,
the number of fatal collisions
where distraction is cited as a cause
rose by 17 per cent in Canada
between 2006 to 2010,
from 302 deaths to 352.
Police say it has become epidemic
despite laws in all provinces against it.
And think about it for a moment,
Sure, you're an expert at multi-tasking...
but consider all the things you have to keep an eye on,
and your mind on,
while you're driving.
What's happening in front of you,
who's coming up behind you,
how fast you're going...
what that kid on the sidewalk is doing
what that guy in the lane beside you is up to...
All that - and more - all at the same time.
Isn't that enough?
But add to that the call you have to make,
or the text that's so important
you have to read it now,
while you're driving...
perhaps you've taken on too much....
So what's the solution?
Some say get tougher with the laws ...
make the penalties like those for drunk driving.
As some experts will point out,
the level of distraction and impairment
is pretty much the same.
Others say the laws already on the books
and another approach is needed.
Smart phones are being integrated
into cars' on-board computer systems,
Allowing for hands-free use
and text-to-voice ...
but according to new studies,
they are proving to be even worse.
Now, distracted driving encompasses more than just cellphone use.
Alberta is the only province that has included other activities in its legislation.
Reading, writing, hygiene and other things are written into the law.
Some studies have revealed that
people engage in a lot of other activities while driving:
eating, smoking, talking, adjusting the sound system,
looking for CDs, attending to children,
putting on makeup,
looking at maps, reading books ...and more.
But it's the explosion of cellphone use
over the past 15 years
that has put that possibility into the hands of most drivers ...
and many are using it.
Surveys suggest most people understand the danger
posed by cellphone use ...
but some just can't resist.
Campaigns to underscore the dangers
have sprung up across the country ...
some threatening and some funny,
but it is too early to tell if they're working.
We want to know what do you think?
Will raising awareness to the danger be enough
to make people resist answering that call
or quickly returning that text?
Will the threat of stiff fines
and perhaps even jail time for repeat offenders
Our question today:
"Should phoning and texting while driving carry the same penalities as drunk driving?"
I'm Ted Blades ...on CBC Radio One ...and on Sirius satellite radio channel 169 ...this is Cross Country Checkup.
- Jeff Walker
National Vice President of public affairs for Canadian Automobile Association.
- Karen Bowman
Founder of Drop it and Drive, a national campaign to raise awareness about the dangers of distracted driving. Twitter: @DropItAndDrive
- Tim Baillie
Retired fire fighter and spokesperson for Drop it and Drive.
- Steve LaFleur
Public Policy Analyst at Frontier Centre for Public Policy in Winnipeg. Twitter: @Steve_Lafleur
- David Strayer
Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience in the Department of Psychology at the University of Utah.
Globe and Mail
University of Alberta
Canadian Family Physician
Ottawa Metro News
Traffic Injury Research Foundation
I was crossing a street in Northern California this past January and was struck by a car making a left hand turn. I was thrown eighteen feet, smashed my head, and was rushed to the hospital. On account of my injuries I have lost my sense of smell. I believe the driver was on her phone texting when she hit me. The cop investigating my case said he asked the driver if she was on her phone, she said no and that was that. If we are going to make texting and driving illegal we also have to have the legislation or technology to ensure law enforcement can determine if drivers were on their phone, especially in the event they hit a pedestrian or cause an accident.
Please stop texting/phoning while driving. It's killing innocent people. And kudos to the RCMP for ticketing drivers who feel like it is ok to take a picture of an accident while they are driving. You folks are putting first responders and your possible family members in harm.
West Plains, Missouri
The smartphone epidemic is responsible for most distracted driving incidents. It is a powerful addiction rooted in the tribalism, narcissism,attention-deficit problems and instant-gratification needs of the young (and increasingly the not so young), all of which are manipulated, reinforced, and exacerbated by corporations.
Victoria, British Columbia
Is smoking while driving a form of distracted driving? If not, why not? If so, anyone ever been charged? Do vehicles still come with ash trays? My two didn't.
Here we go again, standing at the wrong end of the horse, believing that it makes sense to legislate common sense. It has been a failure with alcohol and it has been, so far at least, a failure with distracting electronic devices in the car. We smug Canadians realize, too often and too late it seems, that common sense is not all that common. Devices and software claiming to build and to strengthen communities does actually make self-minded idiots of us all, except for me of course as I do not own one.
Is it that the government should work with insurance companies (or boards) to simply void automobile insurance coverage for any driver involved in an accident who is found to have been on their cell phones?
Accidents should be systematically investigated to determine whether a driver was on their cell phone at the time of the incident. It would be simple enough - just examine their phone logs. A couple of hundred dollar fine is no deterrent. The risk of being found criminally or civilly responsible for an accident, injury or death, due to your insurance void -- life savings could be wiped out, if you are found to have been driving would be huge.
This issue is of paramount significance. I see this being done every day and I can only come to one conclusion: this society has become so self-absorbed, indifferent to reality and in need of instant gratification that they simply do not care about the consequences of their actions.
If this were an activity that affects only the person him or herself, I would not lose sleep over it. This could not be further from the truth. People are driving potential killing machines and the rest of us are at risk every time we go behind the wheel. The typical reaction to being called on this activity is inane. These people voice hostility at being called on it!
In Manitoba, the government deemed it necessary to give the public a full year of "probation" with respect to the enforcement of this law. How pathetic! Are people devoid of any common sense? Are they totally desensitized to what they are doing? Thank god we have now tightened the law and demerits are a part of the solution. I only wish that I could personally affect change in this regard. Nothing is more frustrating and unnerving than witnessing these people every single day.
Simply legislate mobile phone and car manufacturers to design smart phones such that they will not work (except for emergency calls) while in a moving vehicle.
This can be easily done with some sort of wireless technology, that would allow the car and phone to "know" about one another and disallow the use of the phone while the car is moving (again except for emergency calls).
The driver of the high-speed train that crashed in Spain was talking on the phone when he passed the brake-point two minutes before the crash that killed 79 passengers. Clearly, he did not realize that his attention was impaired by taking that call, but it was.
We don't, as a society, accept that talking on cellphones and texting is an impairment like drinking and driving.
Surely with all the advances in technology these days we should be able to ensure that a phone does not work unless the car is at a standstill!
Port Hope, Ontario
Why can't they program phones to NOT operate if moving more than 5km an hour? Surely the technology is there.
Absolutely these people should be treated the same as drinking and driving offenses, if a death occurs these people should be charged with murder put them away for life.
North Western, British Columbia
I believe there is a technological solution to the problem of phoning and texting while driving...it seems to me it is possible to simply prevent the transmission of a cell call or text while in motion or over a specified speed. Currently there are vehicle tracking systems that use the cellular network to operate.
What if police could take a person's device if they are caught texting and driving. I like that idea.
Fines and penalties don't change behaviour experiences do. Have it mandatory as part of obtaining a driver's license to take the driving course that includes watching hours of graphic footage of horrific car accidents. Have people experience what it looks like and sounds like to be in a serious accident that will make a difference.
Vancouver, British Columbia
There's a difference between talking to someone else in the car and doing other things. Your passenger can react to the situation, and stop yammering when things go bad. Other things -- your text message, your complicated entertainment system, and so on -- can't be so sensitive, so you have to pay attention to them in order to make the evaluation. But none of that matters: people are commuting long distances, driving all over the place to run to this and that kids' activity, and so on. It's always been easy to be distracted while driving. What's different today is that everyone is driving, all the time. The danger of distractions is magnified as a result.
Manchester, New Hampshire
Include the revocation of ones license for life with no exception, on top of the rest of the charges laid, (should be murder) then I would agree fully. I have no doubt there would be too much grey area in enforcing this against cell phone users. Bottom line, driving while texting or talking on a phone is the epitome of inconsideration for others. Driving is a privilege, not a right. As long as my life, my family and friends lives are in danger due to this stupidity, the full extent of punishment should be enforced.
Victoria, British Columbia
Texting, talking on a hand held device or eating while driving should be a fineable offence. I don't believe any of these is any less distracting to a driver than being impaired, therefore the consequences should be the same. I also don't believe young people are more aware while texting than others. Watch anyone, young or old, walking down the sidewalk texting and if you don't move out of their way they will walk right into you. Our laws are meant for the safety of all, not for the "convenience" or so called "rights" of a few.
Hope, British Columbia
Comparisons that people are making between drunk or distracted drivers and jaywalkers are quite absurd: drivers are supposedly in control of a heavy vehicle that can do a lot of damage to people and property. Pedestrians, not so much.
Some of your callers refuse to acknowledge that texting impairs your ability to be 100% on task. One of your callers did offer that reading a newspaper while driving is a bad idea. Well guess what? Texting involves reading and typing. As for the guy who drives for a living that likened it to jay-walking, here is a question: When you are in a very serious make-or-break avoidance situation, do you initiate a conversation? Do you pick up your phone to make a call or text? Of course you don't! And the 'why' of that is because it requires your total attention.
And for all those who don't think that texting and driving equates to drinking and driving, you all need to sit down with some mothers and fathers who have lost their children to a driver who was texting. And I'm sure the offending drivers in all of those cases will absolutely admit that texting distracted them.
Let's all remember this: Many years ago someone who was drinking & driving was able to say, "I'm not drunk-drunk. I'm okay to drive and I live close."Many years, accidents and deaths led to society's admission that nobody is alright to drink and drive; that drinking does impair reaction time.
Texting and driving doesn't make you "stagger and slur your words", as the professional driver said. But it impairs your reaction time! And at 60-100km/h, 1-second reaction time is what it's all about ...not whether texting is the same as staggering or slurring your words.
Anyone who believes they can drive safely while using their phone is deluding them self. This flies in the face of what we know about basic cognition.
The question that needs to be asked of those in denial is: would you really feel safe on the road if every driver was driving while talking on the phone? Because that is basically what these people are advocating. It's not just you talking on the phone; it's every other driver as well.
The obvious solution is for police to confiscate/impound the offender's phone for a 3 day period (first offence) with ever increasing impoundments for subsequent offences. These folks will take the loss of their phone for extended periods of time far more seriously than any fine might.
Delta, British Columbia
A few weeks ago I was watching the Teen Choice Awards and before the commercial breaks there were short promotional messages about the It Can Wait campaign, complete with its own branding, messaging and stickers. It was very surprising and impressive to see a drive safe campaign being promoted during a national broadcast that was specifically targeted at young people. Obviously there is a movement in the USA to raise awareness about this serious issue. I would like to see a similar campaign here in Canada.
I believe (and hope) that insurance coverage becomes void if a driver has a collision while driving drunk. Is it the case with driving while on a cell phone or texting is insurance coverage void?
Roberts Creek, British Columbia
If the statistics support the idea that texting while driving can have the same grave consequences as impaired driving then I do indeed believe the penalty for texting while driving should be as severe. Maybe then texting and driving would be thought of as a huge no no, much like we now consider impaired driving. I think we need to remember that lives are at stake. That should be our main focus.
Last year I experienced, for the first time, blue tooth technology while driving. When I answered my cell phone and the voice of my caller emerged from the car speaker system I was thrilled! I happily chatted away for about 5 minutes when all of a sudden I heard a lot of honking. Imagine my horror when I discovered they were honking at me! I had stopped at a red light and was so engrossed in my conversation that I completely ignored my surroundings. Never again have I used that technology. Yes, texting while driving should result in severe penalties in my opinion - loss of license and big fines - even jail for repeat offenders. I believe that only some people are able to concentrate on driving while talking on the phone. I am not one of them!
Kitimat, British Columbia
I was listening to your programme and I feel I would like to see the research on cell phones. I feel that there are two issues if we really want people to stop distracted driving we need to go back to people answering the phones, secretaries and greater access. I am a physician and I resisted a cell phone until it became impossible to reach anyone. Telephone tag has made it impossible to contact anyone. Even calling a hospital results in voice mail, voice options, being on hold etc. I end up feeling I have to use the phone on my way to a meeting because I can't reach people when I need to or get through to anyone. I would concur with your last caller that the changes in cars may have something more to do with accidents than simply cell phones - cars move faster. I too rented a car more recently and there was so much in buttons and trying to find radio channels it found it very distractible. I wonder if they controlled for those who use GPS, video cameras and lots of other technology. The distraction is worse since you actually don't have to use your brain more when you drive. I am a bit of a luddite - I drive my standard car, pull over to look at a map, push a few buttons for the radio. I actually find using my bluetooth worse than the cell. I put it on speaker phone so I can hear it, use the voice activation to drive for me and hold the phone in front of me when I am speaking. I think having at your ear, something in your ear, fooling with buttons and drop calls worse
The real solution - get rid of answering machines, answer the phone and I won't need my cell phone anymore - and maybe avoid brain tumours.As a last thought I don't know but just a random thought that perhaps the excess use of cell phones is also tied to an anxious society where we can't be alone, there is threat of injury and bad things happen and people can't be quiet on their own. The cell phones are probably more like alcohol in the habit of needing constant contact than the car driving issues.
My daughter was killed 10 years ago by a 28 year old hockey player who checked out totally fit in the hospital afterwards but said he fainted at the wheel! I don't buy this. The police did not tell me if they had checked his use of a cell phone, it wasn't a big issue 10 years ago. They said he wasn't drunk or on drugs. She was a registered nurse preparing to go on duty. She had one of her young sons with her, who was injured. Nothing can take my and our family's grief away. There was no punishment for this young man, except I was told he was banned from driving for a year, but who monitored this, I don't know.
A couple of years ago in California, a Sonoma State University student was on her way to practice. She was a beautiful girl, top student & athlete. She was going thru a very quiet neighborhood when she was texting while driving. A mother and her three year old were crossing in a cross walk. The three year old girl was killed and her mother badly injured spent months in hospital. The student was not injured physically. She was eventually convicted but I do not recall the charge.
Salt Spring Island, British Columbia
Passengers are actually helping drivers by alerting them to something the driver may not see and they will immediately stop talking during a critical moment. The caller to whom the driver is speaking would be unaware there is an impending crisis and continue distracting the driver.
I'm shocked by how many callers reject the science around using the phone while driving. It's clear to anyone who has taken the slightest effort to understand research on the subject that texting while driving is deadly. Perhaps the correct analogy is not with alcohol; it's with tobacco. No amount of tobacco use is safe. No amount of texting and driving is safe.
Vernon, British Columbia
The evidence that two-way communication distracts drivers has been amply demonstrated. One-way communication (broadcast) is a completely different issue that does not require personal responses and does not impose the same risk.
Legislation could require that all vehicles be fitted with an in-vehicle jamming device that interferes with communications frequencies while the engine is running. The engine would need to be stopped for any two-way communication. One-way broadcast would continue to operate.
Alberta has the right answer. Eating, drinking, makeup application, shaving, etc. should be included in the definition of distracted driving. Fines can be applied on an escalating schedule for repeat offenders.
Rather than listing off the particular activities or technologies which are undeniably distracting and drawing direct comparisons to drunk driving, I think the main point is that safety, responsibility, and respect for other people are qualities which must be cultivated in people and all the signs and fines and accidents don't make any real difference. Fines are good for funding the departments which deal with motorways and accidents, but don't change attitudes. Technology does not hold the answer as we can see hands-free devices only allow irresponsible people to triple their attention load by using their 'free' hands to do further activities beyond driving. Redrafting the law to make it illegal to operate a vehicle without undue attention and responsibility would make it broad enough to cover any of these instances without prohibiting any particular activity for those who can responsibly manage their attention on the road.
Distracted driving is not a new issue. Although we didn't call it this in the past, over the years I have seen or read about many different types of distracted driving. Some of them seem rather benign like eating lunch and drinking coffee while driving, although I have seen people read books, put on their makeup, do their hair, shave and do any number of things prior to the development of cell phones.
Anything that takes away people's concentration can create a distracted driver issue, including having cracked or dirty windshields, children or pets that are creating a distraction and many other similar things that don't really get much attention.
I do agree that texting while actively driving is probably one of the more dangerous things and that it does require both education and consequences, as it does put people at risk. I agree with one of your callers that it is different than drunk driving, in that those who are drunk are distracted throughout the whole course of the journey birth people who are texting may only be distracted for a few minutes at a time.
Vancouver, British Columbia
Driving is a privilege not a right. If a person is found incapable of following safe practices for the use of a motor vehicle then they should lose the right to drive, and be fined. In the case of texting while driving, I agree with callers who suggest that heavy fines would work, though I would add temporary suspension of driving privilege, demerit points and 48hr confiscation of the hand-held device. Repeat offenders could have the punishment multiplied 5 fold each time to a maximum of three offences after which you are banned from driving period.
Salmon Arm, British Columbia
It would seem to me that a deterrent that would benefit all of us is to penalize distracted drivers through higher insurance costs. This would allow safe drivers to benefit from reduced insurance costs resulting from drivers who have been ticketed for distracted driving pay more. This would eliminate the debate about harsh criminal penalties carried through life. As speeding through a school zone has been reduced as a result of insurance sanctions I think people would think twice about paying a large increase in insurance costs for distracted driving as well. Why should society at large pay for the increased accident rate of people who chose to put us all at risk?
Cobble Hill, British Columbia
Part of the issue, I think, is that we are spending more and more time in our cars. Poor urban planning decisions continue to push people to the suburbs, and the commute doubles as a time to plan the day, do business, and stay in touch with friends. Reining in the sprawl and investing in serious mass transit could play a big part in reducing accidents from distracted drivers.
Victoria, British Columbia
Your last caller said all cell phones should be jammed, so they could not be operated while driving, which would include passengers. He indicated that there was absolutely no circumstance in which a call could be more important. I know that my 21 year old grandson, Kurtis Cole, is not nearly as educated as that learned individual, but in the 30 seconds he passed through the kitchen, and listened to the comment, he said, "what if there is a kidnap victim in the trunk with a cellphone. Bam." This is certainly a complex question, but it probably takes more than rigid adherence to preconceived ideas to come up with sensible legislation.
Fredericton, New Brunswick
Texting might be worse than "speaking to the car" for those who have that option. Now that we talk to the car, I suppose tell it to raise temp please and conversations like that, maybe we could speak the text to the car for transformation into text, have it sent, and at the other end if it is a driver, have the receiving car translate the text into speech. That way we can still communicate without talking to the other person, keeping the benefit of not being interrupted.
At the end of the day, the best way to reduce any desired behaviour that is also proscribed is to make it so the person know that the chance of detection is high. Almost nobody is immune to some form of discomfort associated with "being caught", discomfort ranging from anger at being interrupted to shame at being caught being antisocial, or so I believe.
Maybe people need to exit whatever fantasy is associated with texting and driving. Ask advertisers what the actual fantasies are. I would suggest the "really important busy person" "Business Pro" (Trademarked by National Car Hire?) "Super Parent Holding Child's World Together", "Jet Fighter Jockey"......
Now, about cannabis and driving there is research ongoing including in Halifax Dalhousie, and of course medications and so on. We may have to teach people how to drive.
Kingston, Nova Scotia
Why do so many people use the word accident? If anyone is distracted while driving, it is not an accident!
Victoria, British Columbia
I do not feel that texting can be compared with drunk driving. However, if it were the case all three London police officers, that I have passed in the past 15 minutes, would be in danger of losing their licence. All three were playing with their computer while in motion. I am quite sure that people will not take any law seriously if those charged with upholding the law fail to do so. Absolutely texting and driving should be outlawed for every driver.
Having harsher penalties for texting and phoning while driving won't work. If it did, the numbers of offenders would be dropping, and that doesn't seem to be the case. Even if fines for texting while driving were incredibly high, it would not serve as a deterrent, because the basic reason behind these people's behaviour is selfishness. They need to make their calls or respond to their texts now. What might make an impact is a campaign to have the police confiscate their phones. If someone needs their phone so badly that they would be willing to risk lives just to send a text, then having their phone, or even their vehicle, confiscated for a period of one to three weeks would be a terrible punishment. Hit them where it hurts, I say.
In response to the person who said, a few minutes ago, that cell jammers should be legislated so that mobile devices are not operational in moving cars: I think that is ridiculous. Yes, there is no call or text more important than a person's life. But no, taking the ability to use mobile devices away from passengers isn't a good solution, in my opinion. Besides being an unnecessary infringement for the passengers, having a passenger take a call for the driver is a responsible solution to distracted driving. Also, phones are not just for calls/texts, but many of us use the map feature instead of a physical map or a separate GPS device. With jammers, we would not have this option of the passenger/navigator using mobile. Jammers are just one more way of controlling people rather than teaching them to be considerate and responsible. If we keep working on the education (and increase penalties as a deterrent at the same time), we will get more responsible, considerate drivers who will likely be more considerate in life as well as in driving.
North Bay, Ontario
This stat may be worth mentioning. Despite that, cell phone users will dispute it, just like an alcoholic who refuses to believe friends and family who tell him or her that they have a problem. Cell phones are one of the most common distractions for drivers. Drivers engaged in text messaging on a cellular phone are 23 times more likely to be involved in a crash or near crash event compared with non-distracted drivers. (Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, 2010)
After listening to the number of callers going through all sorts of mental gymnastics trying to defend lax penalties for texting while driving I'm overwhelmed by the nonchalant attitude folks have about human life. If you are texting while driving you are impaired. The attitude of some callers is downright scary.
As far as penalties are concerned, treat those caught texting while driving the same as those caught driving with 0.05 alcohol blood levels. Fine them and confiscate their phone for 24 hours.
If you are involved in an accident that results in personal injury or loss of life you should be treated no differently than those impaired by alcohol, drugs including prescription drugs, or any other behaviour that prevents driving with due diligence.
Victoria, British Columbia
I just heard a phone in about making the phones or cars so you cannot use mobile phones while moving. Problem solved. Not convenient? No it isn't but having an accident or causing harm to innocent people is not convenient to them. This should have been thought of by the producers of the devices and not be a burden to the public and peoples wellbeing.
I honk at the driver when i see them on cell or texting. It makes them look Everyone should do this. The horn is under utilized in Canada and the USA.