Distracted Driving
 March 5, 2014
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Distracted Driving – A Growing and Dangerous Trend in North America

There are many studies and statistics on this topic.  Distracted driving has been around for years. Early distractions included eating or drinking while driving, adjusting climate or entertainment systems, applying make-up or checking your appearance in internal mirrors and the most obvious situation is with distractions created by interaction with other passengers in the vehicle.

The modern connected world introduced a new and potentially more dangerous distraction. The evolution of the personal communication device, from voice to multi-medium communication device is the major focus as of late.  Even when the device is not used in the vehicle it can centre one’s attention to a point where you are unaware of the environment around you, for some people.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States has completed several studies.  Below are excerpts from two publications, Injury Prevention & Control: Motor Vehicle Safety and Distracted Driving in the United States and Europe.

There are three main types of distraction:

  • Visual: taking your eyes off the road;
  • Manual: taking your hands off the wheel; and
  • Cognitive: taking your mind off of driving.2

Key points of interest:

  • Each day in the United States, more than 9 people are killed and more than 1,060 people are injured in crashes that are reported to involve a distracted driver.1
  • Distracted driving activities include things like using a cell phone, texting, and eating. Using in-vehicle technologies (such as navigation systems) can also be a source of distraction. While any of these distractions can endanger the driver and others, texting while driving is especially dangerous because it combines all three types of distraction.2

How big is the problem?

  • In 2011, 3,331 people were killed in crashes involving a distracted driver, compared to 3,267 in 2010. An additional, 387,000 people were injured in motor vehicle crashes involving a distracted driver in 2011, compared to 416,000 people injured in 2010.1
  • In 2010, nearly one in five crashes (18%) in which someone was injured involved distracted driving.1
  • In June 2011, more than 196 billion text messages were sent or received in the US, up nearly 50% from June 2009.1
  • The following was reproduced from the Consumers Report’s website, “Distracted driving is a dangerous practice that is becoming an epidemic on our nation’s roads. In 2012, over 3,300 people were killed and an estimated 421,000 injured in crashes related to distraction.”
  • In Ontario, The OPP website indicates distracted driving is cited as a causal factor in 30 to 50 percent of traffic collisions in Ontario, but is probably much higher due to under-reporting.

Talking on a cell phone while driving

  • 69% of drivers in the United States ages 18-64 reported that they had talked on their cell phone while driving within the 30 days before they were surveyed.
  • In Europe, this percentage ranged from 21% in the United Kingdom to 59% in Portugal.

Texting or emailing while driving

  • 31% of U.S. drivers ages 18-64 reported that they had read or sent text messages or email messages while driving at least once within the 30 days before they were surveyed.
  • In Europe, this percentage ranged from 15% in Spain to 31% in Portugal.3

What are the risk factors?

  • Some activities—such as texting—take the driver’s attention away from driving more frequently and for longer periods than other distractions.4
  • Younger, inexperienced drivers under the age of 20 may be at increased risk; they have the highest proportion of distraction-related fatal crashes.4
  • Texting while driving is linked with drinking and driving or riding with someone who has been drinking among high school students in the United States, according to a CDC study that analyzed self-report data from the 2011 national Youth Risk Behaviour Survey. Students who reported engaging in risky driving behaviours said that they did so at least once in the 30 days prior to the survey.5

Take Steps to Be Safe

There are several things you can do to keep yourself and others safe on the road:

Steps for all drivers:

  • Model safe behaviour behind the wheel—never text and drive.
  • Always stay focused and alert when driving.
  • Take the pledge—commit to distraction-free driving.
  • Speak out if the driver in your car is distracted.
  • Encourage your friends and family to designate their cars a “no phone” zone when driving.
  • Spread the word—get involved in promoting safe driving in your community.

Steps for parents of teen drivers:

  • Know and obey the laws in your province. There may be Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL) laws that include cell phone and texting bans for young drivers.
  • Discuss what it means to be a safe driver with your teen and set ground rules for when they are behind the wheel.
  • Make a family pledge and have other members in your family commit to distraction-free driving.
  • Set a positive example for your teen by putting your cell phone away every time you drive.

This month in Ontario, distracted driving fines will jump to $280.00!

The fine for distracted driving in Ontario will soon nearly double. In February, Ontario chief justice Annemarie Bonkalo signed a judicial order approving the new fines.

As of March 18, driving with the display screen of a phone, computer, MP3 player or tablet computer visible to the driver will jump to $280 from $155. The total includes a $25 victim surcharge and $5 court costs. The fines will not apply to GPS screens.

A ticket for distracted driving in Ontario does not come with demerit points, although drivers could also face a dangerous driving charge, which includes six demerit points. Other forms of distracted driving can result in a charge of Careless Driving with fines ranging from $400 to $2,000, a possible licence suspension of up to two years and/or a jail term of not more than six months.


1. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Facts and Statistics. Available from http://www.distraction.gov/content/get-the-facts/facts-and-statistics.html.  Accessed May 23, 2013
2. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, September 2010. Publication no. DOT-HS-811-379. Available from http://www.distraction.gov/content/get-the-facts/index.html. Accessed May 23, 2013.
3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Mobile Device Use While Driving — the United States and Seven European Countries, 2011. MMWR 2013 / 62(10);177-182. http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm6210a1.htm?s_cid=mm6210a1_w
4. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Policy Statement and Compiled Facts on Distracted Driving. Washington, DC: US Department of Transportation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 2011. Available from: http://www.nhtsa.gov/. Accessed May 23, 2013.
5. Olsen EO, Shults RA, Eaton DK. Texting while driving and other risky motor vehicle behaviours among US high school students. Pediatrics. 2013;131(6):e1708-e1715. http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2013/05/08/peds.2012-3462.abstract
6. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Regulations. Available from: http://www.distraction.gov/content/dot-action/regulations.html. Accessed May 23, 2013.
7. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. Limiting the Use of Wireless Communication Devices. Washington DC: US Department of Transportation, Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, 2011. Available from: http://www.fmcsa.dot.gov/. Accessed May 23, 2013.

Other References: