A survey of Canadian drivers has found 53 per cent admitted to driving while distracted by their cellphones at least once in the first three months of 2019. Only 38 per cent of respondents said the same thing last year.
The survey released this month by Desjardins Insurance also found 43 per cent of respondents said it would take a collision for them to take focusing on the road seriously.
“That’s very concerning. It shouldn’t take a motor vehicle collision for us to change our behaviour,” said Zac Stevenson, a senior public adviser at Dejardins.
The online survey was conducted in March and polled 3,050 people across Canada. Close to half of those surveyed said their cellphones are the main thing that distracts them while driving.
Despite many admitting to driving while checking their phone, 93 per cent of drivers surveyed said they never or rarely drive distracted, though 84 per cent said they always or often see others driving with their phones in hand.
Only 32 per cent of drivers surveyed said they considered distracted driving dangerous, though that was up five percentage points compared to the year prior.
Sgt. Brett Moore from the Toronto Police Traffic Services Unit said distracted driving has become their top concern when it comes to reducing collisions.
Moore said ticketing, to his disappointment, is often the only way to convince drivers to put their phones down.
“It shouldn’t take the threat of a ticket,” he said. “We can say it till we’re blue in the face, if people choose not to do it, those collision statistics will probably continue (to rise).”
Jessica Spieker with Friends and Families for Safe Streets said she wishes police would do more to penalize distracted drivers.
“Police do shockingly little enforcement,” she said.
She also said she wants to see streets narrowed so cars start slowing down. The less speeding there is, the fewer collisions will result in death or serious injury, she said.
“The things we’ve done so far to curb distracted driving don’t work,” she said. “People tend to adjust their speeds based on the cues the road gives them.”
Another option is introducing “textalyzers” — devices used by police that can be plugged into phones to monitor any swiping or typing that happened right before the collision. Legislation allowing their use is currently being debated in Nevada, but not without critique from privacy advocates.
For Spieker, those arguments are unfounded.
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“A breathalyzer test is not considered a breach of someone’s privacy, so a textalyzer is analogous,” she said. “It doesn’t tell you what you were doing, or what the content of your text message was, the same way that a breathalyzer doesn’t tell you which bar you were at, or what you drank.”
With files from Osobe Waberi and Abhya Adlakha
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