Point of View

More consequences needed to change attitudes about cellphone use while driving

An emergency room doctor in Alberta says the Quebec government’s request to make it a criminal offence to use a cellphone while driving in Canada is overdue.

Emergency room doctor says making it a criminal offence long overdue

Dr. Louis Francescutti says it’s time that something substantial is done about distracted driving. (Getty Images)

An emergency room doctor in Alberta says the Quebec government's request to make it a criminal offence to use a cellphone while driving in Canada is overdue.

Dr. Louis Francescutti, who is also a professor of public health at the University of Alberta, spoke to CBC Radio's The Afternoon Edition.

"It's long overdue because what happened in Quebec was spurred on by two coroners that had separate cases where they investigated deaths related to cell phone use and driving, and became frustrated because they noticed there's a pattern going on in this country," Francescutti said.

According to SGI, the provincial Crown corporation that oversees vehicle licensing in Saskatchewan, in 2014, distracted driving was identified as a major contributing factor in 26 fatal collisions in the province. That's the third-highest category behind alcohol and speed.

SGI stats show convictions for cellphone use while driving steadily increased from 2010 to 2014, with a slight drop in 2015.

2010: 1,821

2011: 3,987

2012: 4,558

2013: 4,877

2014: 4,916

2015: 4,304

Francescutti said it's time that something substantial is done about the issue.

What else can be done?

While Francescutti maintains that a Criminal Code change is the best way to change people's attitudes about distracted driving, he said more needs to be done.

The majority of people are on their cellphones all the time, so why would you think that when they get in their vehicle they're not going to do the same thing?- Dr. Louis Francescutti

"We don't have enough serious enforcement going on," Francescutti said, adding that other approaches should be considered.

Francescutti said software is already available that can disable notifications for phones or that can allow a phone in a vehicle to be disabled by the vehicle itself.

"The majority of people are on their cellphones all the time, so why would you think that when they get in their vehicle they're not going to do the same thing?" he said.

Francescutti said governments are to blame for allowing what he calls "idiotic legislation" that told people it's OK to use hands-free options while driving. He said having a conversation with someone on the phone while driving is just as distracting as using the cellphone itself.

He said that having more serious consequences for distracted driving is the only way to change society's attitudes about it.

"At the end of the day, if all of a sudden it becomes a criminal activity to use your cellphone and drive and you get caught, and as a result of that consequence, you may not be able to travel into the United States, as example, or you could lose your licence or you could be fined or you could be jailed."

With files from CBC Radio's The Afternoon Edition