Momentary lapses of attention while driving can be fatal

Texting a message, reaching for a cup of coffee or changing the radio station.

All innocent enough­­––unless you’re doing them while driving.

These actions can become deadly distractions on the road.

And while distracted driving takes many forms––from fiddling with GPS settings to shaving to reaching for a ham sandwich––since Alberta introduced distracted driving legislation in 2011, more than 95 per cent of convictions have been for using cellphones and personal electronic devices.

Every second counts

The Canadian Automobile Association and the Insurance Bureau of Canada both note that drivers are 23 times more likely to be in a collision if they text while driving. The reason is simple: texting takes your attention away from the road for seconds at a time, often about 4.6 seconds at a time.

On the road, every second counts. The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) says taking your eyes off the road for just two seconds doubles your risk of being in a collision.

If you’re travelling at 100 km/hour, two seconds means you’ve covered 55 metres without looking at the road. If you’re texting, you will have travelled more than double that distance without knowing what’s happening around you.

And it doesn’t stop there: if something is happening, it will take another two seconds to react and three or more seconds to stop.

Some compare texting (or any hand-held cellphone use) and driving to drinking and driving. “Screen drunk” as it’s known, is equally as dangerous as impaired driving.

The difference is as rates for drinking and driving fall, the rates for texting and driving are increasing. In Ontario, the stats are grim. Distracted driving kills more people than impaired driving.

And, yet, we keep texting

In some of the Western provinces, stiffer penalties don’t deter people from sneaking a peek at their phones.

  • In 2015, police in Saskatchewan laid 196 per cent more charges than the year before.
  • More than 300,000 distracted driving charges have been laid in British Columbia.
  • In Alberta, there were more than 87,000 convictions for distracted driving from September 2011 to March 2016.

Aggressive fines and public awareness campaigns have failed to curb texting and driving. Why? Because we’re social creatures.

“Texting is a social behavior; that desire to stay connected is extremely powerful because it taps directly into your brain’s reward system,” said Paul Atchley, a researcher at the University of Kansas in a 2011 issue of Men’s Health. His team found the need for instant gratification is why most drivers can’t resist answering their devices while driving.

Seconds count

You might think it only takes a second to answer a text. Men’s Health debunked this and other notions about cellphone use.

  • Average time to send a text on a handheld phone: 37 seconds
  • Average time to place a call: 12.9 seconds
  • Average time to answer a call: 7.9 seconds
  • Average time spent changing vehicle controls (windows, air/heat, cruise control): 4.8 seconds
  • Average time spent reprogramming GPS: 34 seconds
  • Average time changing audio controls: 5.5 seconds

Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) tips to eliminate or minimize distractions

  • Leave plenty of time to get to your destination.
  • Familiarize yourself with the route and directions.
  • Pre-program your route on your GPS device.
  • Listen to your GPS device; don’t look at it.
  • Put any reading materials or distracting objects in the trunk.
  • Allow calls to go to voicemail. If you must make or take a call, pull over and park at a safe location.
  • Keep your eyes and mind on the road.
  • Keep two hands on the wheel.

You can also consider using autoresponder apps, such as OneTap, Lifesaver, or It Can Wait. These apps typically block incoming texts and calls and tell senders you’re driving.

Know the law

Across Canada, eleven provincial and territorial governments ban or restrict hand-held cellphones and electronic devices. If you cause an incident or are driving unsafely while using such a device, you can be charged with distracted driving, dangerous driving, careless driving, and criminal negligence causing death or injury.

Know the rules where you drive.

More distractions than you think

In a 2013 survey by Allstate Canada and Abacus data, 90 per cent of people said they had driven while being distracted. In a similar survey by Allstate in 2010, the results were 75 per cent.

“Our research indicates that almost all Canadian drivers (94 per cent) are aware of current distracted driving penalties, but only seven per cent say this would prevent them from driving distracted,” says Saskia Matheson.

Allstate also studied the behavior of drivers in Canada within a one hour period. A total of 3,957 distracted drivers were logged.

Distractions included:

  • Eating and drinking—18.5 per cent
  • Texting or talking on a phone—18 per cent
  • Talking to passengers—17.6 per cent
  • Smoking—12.8 per cent.

While eating, drinking, talking to passengers and smoking are not illegal, they can still veer your eyes away from the road and become driving risks.

Pay attention or pay up

Sample of fines and demerit points if convicted of distracted driving