Men in Alberta are being ticketed for distracted driving at nearly twice the rate as women but experts say the numbers don't necessarily mean males are more prone to fiddle with their phones behind the wheel.
Of the 27,417 distracted-driving convictions in the last fiscal year, 65.5 per cent involved male drivers, according to data from Alberta Transportation.
That works out to 11.1 convictions per 1,000 licensed male drivers, compared to a rate of 6.5 for female drivers.
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But there are other factors that could influence both the total convictions and the conviction rate for each gender, noted Doug King, a justice studies professor at Mount Royal University who worked previously as a research analyst with the Calgary Police Service.
"The worst thing a person could do with this data is draw a conclusion that, for reasons unexplained, male drivers are more prone to being distracted drivers," King said.
"I think it would be silly — I would use that word — to try and find explanations in biology or psychology."
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King said the numbers present an interesting "snapshot" but don't say for certain one gender has a tendency to drive while distracted more than the other.
Additional factors need to be considered, he noted, particularly how much total driving each gender does.
"Does the average male driver in Alberta drive more that the average female driver?" King said. "Then there's the other question: Is there a gender difference in frequency of driving? So not just how much you drive, but how often you drive."
Abu Sadat Nurullah, PhD candidate in sociology at the University of Alberta who published a research paper on distracted-driving demographics in 2013, agrees.
"There's a lot of other factors involved in this," he said.
Nurullah's study, based on self-reported behaviour in surveys of Alberta drivers carried out in 2011 — prior to the province's distracted-driving law taking effect — found male drivers were nine per cent more likely than females to use their mobile phones (for any purpose) behind the wheel.
At the same time, he said other studies have found female drivers more likely than males to send text messages while driving, which is one of the more dangerous uses of a mobile phone for active motorists.
Influence of age
While Nurullah's study found people aged 35 to 44 were most likely to report using a cellphone while driving, the highest conviction rates in the Alberta Transportation data were among slightly younger drivers.
Men aged 30 to 34 had the highest rate, at 16.6 convictions per 1,000 licensed drivers.
Among women, the highest rate came in the 22 to 24 age range, at 11.7 convictions per 1,000 drivers.
In general, the conviction rate drops off sharply past age 44.
Krista Whelen, an instructor at Chinook Driving Academy in Calgary, said the curriculum heavily stresses the dangers of distracted driving and now devotes even more classroom time to that topic than impaired driving.
She also had a few hypotheses about why men are more heavily ticketed than women in their mid-30s.
"I know it sounds totally bad and it's sexist and whatever, but women, as they get older, that's when they start having kids," Whelen said. "They've got too much going on to worry about their phone while driving."
She also suggested men in their 30s and 40s might be more glued to their phones because of their jobs.
"I know a lot of people in the oil industry, they have to have their phones, they have to answer their phone when it rings, they have to be constantly working," she said.
"So it could be partially employment-related, or they get into the habit of doing it for work."
While Alberta's legislation allows officers to ticket drivers for a wide variety of distractions, about 98 per cent of convictions since the law was introduced were for using a mobile phone or other type of electronic device while behind the wheel.