Understanding distracted driving

Oct 2, 2012 3 minute read

When it comes to road safety, what do you think is the biggest concern of Canadians? Impaired driving? Not anymore. According to a 2010 study by the Canadian Automobile Association, distracted driving has surpassed impaired driving as the #1 road safety concern—of 85% of Canadians.

That concern is warranted. A driver talking on a cell phone is four times more likely to be involved in a collision, while someone who is texting is 23 times more likely.

“Distracted driving increases the odds of a collision for everyone on the road,” says Steve Parry of BrokerLink. “Don’t underestimate its impact. It can be as dangerous as drunk driving.”

To address this growing issue, in 2009 Ontario banned the use of hand-held devices while driving, and Alberta introduced a similar legislation in 2011. The law prohibits drivers in both provinces from talking, texting, typing, dialing or emailing using hand-held phones and other hand-held communication and entertainment devices. Unless you must call the police, fire department or emergency medical service, you may not use a hand-held device.

Drivers are also forbidden from viewing display screens unrelated to driving, such as laptops or MP3 and DVD players, and in Alberta drivers are also restricted from reading printed material, writing and personal grooming. All these restrictions also apply when stopped at a red light.

If you wish to use a hand-held device, you must be pulled off the road and not obstructing traffic or be lawfully parked.

Hands-free devices—those you don’t need to physically interact with or manipulate to operate—are permitted. For example, you may use a cell phone with an earpiece, headset or Bluetooth device using voice dialing or plugged into your vehicle’s sound system. (However, Steve recommends pulling over even to make a hands free call.) Eating a snack or drinking is allowed, as are smoking and talking to passengers.

As long as your MP3 player is plugged into the sound system and ready to go, you may listen to it. Similarly, if a GPS unit is programmed in advance and secured to the dashboard or windshield, using it is fine. Neither the MP3 player nor the GPS may be touched while you’re driving, however.

“Basically, the legislation seeks to maximize the amount of time your hands are on the wheel and your eyes are on the road,” Steve observes. “We all share the responsibility when it comes to distracted driving.”

Teens and adults under 35 are the most frequent users of cell phones while driving. So parents should make sure young drivers understand the legislation, risks and consequences. The fine is $155 in Ontario and $172 in Alberta. There are no demerit points, but your insurance premium may increase.

That could be the least of your concerns though. “It takes only a few seconds of inattention to change, or end, a life,” warns Steve. The key is to be prepared, minimize distractions and ignore temptations—see our helpful list of distraction prevention tips.

For more information, visit the Government of Ontario Ministry of Transportation’s website, or the Government of Alberta Transportation’s website.

BrokerLink is happy to answer your questions about distracted driving and how it can affect your insurance. To speak to a broker about auto safety or finding auto insurance that gives you the coverage you need, visit our Find a Broker page.

Distraction Prevention

  • Don’t take calls or answer texts. Even better, avoid the temptation altogether and turn off your phone.
  • Set up your MP3 player, program the GPS and adjust the seat, mirrors and temperature before driving.
  • Ensure your kids have everything they need and pets are secured.
  • Ask passengers to keep distractions to a minimum and take or make calls and assist you with navigation.
  • Keep the vehicle tidy, with loose items securely stowed.
  • Attend to personal grooming before you leave or once you arrive.
  • If you must make a call, send a text or help a passenger, pull over somewhere safe.

Have you seen distracted drivers? Tell us your story in the comments section.