Distracted driving is emerging as a leading killer of Canadians.
Nationwide, distracted driving was a contributing factor in 21 per cent of fatal collisions and 27 per cent of collisions resulting in serious injury in 2016, according to Transport Canada.
And the problem, by just about any measure, appears to be getting worse.
In 2006, we Canadians were doing less distracted driving – which encompasses not only cell phone use but also eating, chatting with passengers or playing with the radio while behind the wheel – when those numbers were reported at 16 and 22 per cent, respectively.
The danger is real and the numbers are scary. According to the Canadian Council of Motor Transportation Administrators (CCMTA), 1.7 per cent of fatal collisions and 1.9 per cent of collisions resulting in serious injury involved cell phones between 2010 and 2014.
The problem is set to worsen as more and more Canadians buy smartphones. The number of cell phone users in Canada increased from 15.2 million in 2013 to about 26.6 million in 2019, said Insurance Brokers Association of Canada (IBAC) director of operations Liz Scott.
Drivers who text are 23 times more likely to be involved in a crash or near crash compared to non-distracted drivers and 33 per cent of Canadians admit they have texted while stopped at a red light, despite knowing it is wrong, she said.
“Distracted driving now competes with impaired driving as the number one cause of motor vehicle accidents and claims, and studies have shown that cell phone users account for the majority of distracted driving incidents,” said Scott.
In addition to the chance of death and injury, being involved in a collision due to distracted driving will increase what you pay for auto insurance, she said.
Depending on the insurance company, your premiums could go up at least 15 per cent in some cases. Distracted drivers also face consequences such as fines and penalties, which vary across the provinces and territories.
In the NWT, if you are caught using a smartphone while driving you could be given a $322 fine ($644 in school and construction zones) and three demerit points, plus administrative driver’s licence suspensions for second, third and fourth offences in a two-year period.
You could also be charged with careless driving, dangerous driving, criminal negligence or with whatever offence the distraction caused you to commit, such as failing to obey a traffic signal.
NT RCMP Traffic Services is not planning any increased traffic enforcement operations over National Safe Driving Week, RCMP spokesperson Julie Plourde stated in an email.
However, the RCMP will launch Operation Gingerbread – a month-long traffic enforcement operation targeting impaired drivers – today.
Enforcement will be stepped up throughout the month, with multiple check stops across the NWT.
Although the main focus is impaired driving, any suspected distracted drivers will be intercepted by RCMP members, she stated.
RCMP Traffic Services will also increase enforcement and check stop operations on Dec. 7, which is National Impaired Driving Enforcement Day.
Though Plourde could not provide exact figures for the North, she stated distracted driving statistics might be under-reported because distraction isn’t always easy to prove. In fatal accidents, there may not be evidence that a driver used a cell phone or, sadly, a living witness to tell the story.
“This is a challenge faced in the North,” she stated. “NT RCMP Traffic Services suspect that distracted driving is under-reported in the North because drivers are not being seen by other drivers, and therefore not reported to police, when driving long distances.”
Checking a text message for five seconds means that, at 90 km/h, you’ve travelled the length of a football field blindfolded, stated Plourde.
The RCMP would like to remind motorists to keep their eyes on the road, both their hands on the wheel and their minds on the task of driving.