Quebec sees drop in motorists guilty of using cellphones behind wheel

The number of motorists found guilty of using cell phones while behind the wheel has decreased for the first time since the provincial government introduced fines for using a cell phone while driving in 2008.

Police say awareness campaign, stiffer penalties help curb risky behaviour

Quebec has taken measures to stiffen the penalties for distracted driving.

Quebec roads may be on the way to becoming a little bit safer.

The number of motorists found guilty of using cell phones while behind the wheel has decreased for the first time since provincial government introduced fines for talking and texting while driving in 2008, Radio-Canada has learned.

The SAAQ, Quebec's automobile insurance board, reported a 23 per cent decline in the number of drivers convicted of using their cellphones while driving, from 67,866 in 2014 to 55,043 in 2015

The Sûreté du Québec said the province's safety campaigns and police cracking down on distracted driving have helped curb dangerous behaviour.

"We're also seeing that citizens are less and less tolerant toward those who do use their cellphone while driving," Annie Thibodeau, spokesperson for the SQ, told Radio-Canada.

"And more and more people are reporting those drivers."

Thibodeau added that Quebec's 2015 decision to stiffen the penalty for drivers caught using a cellphone from losing three demerit points to four, which could result in motorists with probationary drivers' licences to lose the them entirely, has also made an impact.

Social attitudes toward texting and driving have shifted. More and more, people are less tolerant of those who use their phones while they drive. (LM Otero/Associated Press)

Fatal distraction

The SAAQ will be launching a new awareness campaign this week to educate motorists on distracted driving and using cellphones behind the wheel.

Mario Vaillaincourt, a spokesperson for the SAAQ, said texting while driving is still rampant and excessively dangerous.

"It's still unfortunately the source of a lot of accidents that lead to deaths and injuries," he said.

Statistics on accidents caused by driver distraction — including cellphones — are less encouraging, he said.

"Half of these accidents cause injuries or deaths, and a third of them are fatal," he said, adding that motorists know that texting while on the road is risky, but the temptation is far too great.

Thibodeau echoed the same concern, saying that some Quebecers think they have mastered texting while driving.

"It's usually wishful thinking," she said. 

With files from Emily Brass and Radio-Canada's Amélie Desmarais