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Distracted Driving: Dealing With a Growing Problem

Autosphere » Fleet » Distracted Driving: Dealing With a Growing Problem
Robyn Robertson, President & CEO, TIRF (Photo: TIRF)

Although Canadians are more aware of the dangers of distracted driving, their behaviour is getting worse.

Results from the latest Desjardins national survey, conducted earlier this year, show that 53% of Canadians admit to having driven distracted by their cellphones at least once—up from 38% in 2018. In other words, even with increasing fines, demerit points and police ramping up efforts to combat the issue, distracted driving is a growing problem.

“Across the board, for all types of road fatalities, we see a general decline,” says Robyn Robertson, President & CEO, Traffic Injury Research Foundation (TIRF). “But for distracted driving we’re not seeing that decline. In fact, we’re seeing an increase.”

Ten years ago, Robertson adds, distracted driving was responsible for roughly 16% of crashes, whereas today it accounts for 25% of fatal crashes. So one in four fatal crashes today involve distraction as a contributing factor.

Not limited to phone use
While phone use is a big part of the problem, Robertson explains that distraction is about more than just the cell phone. “Realistically, distraction involves any manual, auditory or cognitive tasks that take your eyes off the road, your mind off the road, or your hands off the wheel.”

Fleet drivers, for example, might be distracted by their navigation devices, or by communication with the office or customers, eating and drinking, trying to look at customer orders, responding to requests, etc.

Delusional thinking
While almost everyone agrees that distracted driving is a problem, very few drivers think that they’re the problem. In fact, according to Robertson, most people believe they’re above average drivers.

“Often,” she adds, “when we have near misses, we think it’s the other person at fault, and we think that we avoided the accident, which in turn reinforces our perception that we are an above average driver. In reality, it may not have been our skill, but someone else’s skill that kept us from getting into a collision.”

Robertson explains that perception/reaction time in the prime of a person’s life is a second and a half. This translates into three quarters of a second for the brain to recognize what the driver is seeing, and three quarters of a second for the brain to tell the body to begin to do something.

“So when it comes to distraction,” Robertson adds, “it doesn’t matter how good a driver you are. If you’re not paying attention, and something changes on the road, you’ll miss it. Most crashes happen in seconds. So that two or three seconds you’re looking away—that is the time and distance you would have needed to avoid a collision.”

Fleet managers need to tackle distracted driving on a number of fronts, Robertson explains. Driver education is key, as are strong anti-distracted driving company policies, coupled with monitoring. The same survey reports that 43% of drivers say getting into a collision would stop them from driving distracted… but don’t let your fleet drivers become part of the statistic.

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