Distracted drivers act like drunks

Survey shows Canadians still not getting distracted driving safety messages

Drifting out of the lane or toward the curb. Sudden corrections. Not signalling turns through intersections.

By all appearances, it’s another drunk driver behind the wheel. But when pulled over, sometimes, police find a lack of sobriety isn’t the culprit — it’s a cellphone and a distracted driver.

“I can tell you from my personal experience, they look like a drunk driver on the road, or a high driver,” said Const. Tyler Hagel, who is with Red Deer RCMP traffic services.

“I’ve stopped multiple vehicles to do sobriety checks on drivers, and after the fact, they will admit, ‘I was on my phone.’

“The driving pattern is identical. It’s all the classic signs of impairment.”

A recent survey from InsuranceHotline.com shows that Canadians continue to drive distracted with scary frequency. More than a quarter of drivers admit reading messages while driving and 14 per cent confessed to texting or instant messaging while behind the wheel.

Four in 10 use their time at a stoplight to catch up on their messages, and more than half — 55 per cent — have used GPS apps on their phone while driving.

Even more alarmingly, three per cent of drivers admitted to watching video while driving, says the survey released this week.

Forum Research conducted the survey of 1,095 drivers over the age of 18 on March 25 and 26.

Other studies have shown distracted drivers are 23 times more likely to get in a collision.

Drivers, aware that holding a cellphone up to their ear is easy to spot, have turned to messaging as a more inconspicuous way to break the law.

“People hold the phone down by their thigh, down by the centre console, and message from there,” said Hagel. “That’s a lot of what we see.”

Catching messaging can be difficult because many vehicles ride so high, police officers can’t see down into the driver compartment.

In January, officers used a school bus parked next to roads in the Red Deer area to get a better vantage point. In four hours, 40 tickets were handed out, mostly for distracted driving-related offences.

The cost of that bad behaviour is high. Inattentive drivers were involved in collisions that injured 32,313 and led to 310 deaths in 2016, according to statistics compiled in the National Collision Database.

Distracted driving even beats out impaired driving for the amount of mayhem created on our roads.

The dangers of distracted driving are obvious to passengers. Three-quarters of survey respondents said they felt unsafe when their driver was taking calls or texting.

In Alberta, the penalty for distracted driving is $287 and three demerit points. That is on the lighter side of penalties, compared with Ontario, where a distracting driving ticket will cost the driver $615 to $1,000 and result in a three-day license suspension.

Penalties can range up to $3,000, and a 30-day suspension kicks in on third and subsequent convictions.

Drivers can also expect to pay hundreds more in insurance if they get a distracted driving ticket.

Alberta statistics show there were 27,417 distracted driving convictions in 2015 and 27,281 in 2016. The numbers continued to drop to 24,665 in 2017 and 23,456 in 2018.

In Red Deer, there were 1,257 convictions in 2015, sharply dropping to 796 in 2016 and continuing to fall to 474 in 2017, before rising to 507 last year.

InsuranceHotline.com’s survey indicates that men are worse offenders than women, with 17 per cent of males likely to state they text or message while driving, compared with 11 per cent of women.

Younger people are far more likely to offend, with 19 per cent saying they were more likely to text or message, compared with only five per cent for those 55 or older.

“Really, my message is if you want to get home, in the interests of everyone’s safety, stay off your phone,” said Hagel.

“Is it that important you can’t wait a few minutes or until you can pull over and safely talk or look at the message?”

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