Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Do distracted drivers bother you?

with 4 comments

I have lost count of the number of times recently I have had to take avoiding action because of the behaviour of other drivers. Some of it of course is simply because of aggressive driving – the sort of people who overtake on the wrong side, cut in front of the line at the last moment or simply ignore signals. But increasing is it noticeable that the offending driver is holding a cell phone – and often gesticulating with the other hand. People who talk on the phone behave as though the person on the other end of the call can see them. This is bizarre  behaviour even when not driving.

Kash Heed, the new Solicitor General, and former police officer seems ready to do something. There is a consultation process that started yesterday and runs until August 7.

The Office of the Superintendent of Motor Vehicles (OSMV) recently conducted an extensive review of distracted driving research. The link to the full distracted driving discussion paper can be found below. The following is a summary of some of the research in this paper:

  • Evidence shows that driver distraction, of all types, is associated with approximately 25 per cent of crashes and results in a significant cost to society in terms of tragic loss of life, serious injuries and resulting monetary costs. Activities such as talking on a cell phone and manipulating electronic devices require significant amounts of attention being diverted away from driving tasks.
  • In both simulated and real driving environments, the use of electronic devices has been shown to result in crashes and near misses. Drivers fail to process approximately 50 per cent of the visual information in their driving environment when they are using electronic communication devices. Evidence also concludes that there is no difference between the level of driver distraction associated with hands-free and hand-held cell phone use.
  • Talking to a passenger in the vehicle versus talking to someone through electronic means does not cause the same level of distraction. Reasons for the difference include: the passenger is aware of the driving situation; the passenger can serve as an additional look-out for hazards; the passenger can adjust speech, tone and conversation to the driving environment; and cell phone conversations suppress brain activity necessary for attention to perceptual input.
  • There is no evidence that listening to the radio or a book on tape degrades driving performance.
  • If you want to you can download the whole discussion paper or you can respond to the following discussion questions

    1. Do you think government should pass additional laws restricting the use of electronic devices while driving, or should emphasis be placed on increased public education and awareness and the enforcement of existing laws governing driver distraction (e.g. “Driving Without Due Care and Attention”)?
    2. Which electronic devices should be considered under this framework?
    3. Should hands-free devices be treated the same or differently as hand-held devices?
    4. What would be the appropriate penalties for drivers disobeying such a law (e.g. failure to wear a seatbelt is a fine of $167)?
    5. Should any proposed laws apply to all drivers, or only specific categories of drivers (i.e., new drivers)?
    6. Should exemptions be provided to any class of drivers (i.e., emergency responders, professional drivers, etc.)

    You can submit your responses to the form on line, mail or fax.

    It seems to me that the current arrangement is not doing enough –  as 117 people die each year in B.C., and another 1,400 are hospitalized, from traffic crashes linked to distractions such as the use of cell phones or MP3 players while driving. But distractions are nothing new – and will continue even if new legislation is introduced. I interviewed OPP officers as part of a study I did back when cell phones were rare and the size of a house brick. They had a long list of things people did while driving just before collisions including eating and drinking (of course) smoking – it is the by product that’s the problem – spilling hot coffee in the lap and setting hair or a beard on fire being somewhat more distracting than struggling to open the plastic rap on a gas station sandwich. Applying make up and changing a pair of tights while driving at high speed on the 401 seemed to be pretty frequent in accident reports too.

    “Without due car and attention” it seemed to me at the time should have resulted in charges more often, but traffic cops are often reluctant to go to court. Especially when the offender had self incriminated themselves in their reports of what happened  after the officer arrived on the scene. It is that old problem of the officer not actually observing the behaviour.

    I also think that ICBC should take a stand on this kind of claim and take contributory negligence into account. Especially when the other driver does not even put the phone down when you are trying to get their insurance details from them!

    I hope that you will take the time to let  Kash know your thoughts – and I will stop trying to tell you how you should answer!

    Written by Stephen Rees

    July 1, 2009 at 10:30 am

    Posted in Road safety

    Tagged with ,

    4 Responses

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    1. I’m guilty of using a cell phone while driving; however, in the name of public safety I think it should be banned.

      To me, it would seem the fine should be higher than not wearing a seat belt as you’re putting other people at risk. In Alberta the fine for failing to yield to a pedestrian is around 400 dollars (i believe). Maybe this is an appropriate fine for driving while talking on a cell phone.

      Kyle Sharpe

      July 3, 2009 at 9:12 am

    2. The German police consider driving while talking on a cell phone as dangerous as drunk driving: I think there are moves afoot to make the penalty about the same. I’ve noticed people stopping more often to talk, so perhaps it’s having an impact. It seems to be less common where there are more manual cars, although I’ve also seen people holding the phone with their right hand and changing gear with their left- in a right hand drive car.
      Tom Vanderbilt posted about this recently, mostly how we seem to accept it: http://www.howwedrive.com/2009/07/03/driving-talking-on-your-cellphone-killing-someone-its-all-just-part-of-life/

      Andy in Germany

      July 3, 2009 at 12:21 pm

    3. I think talking on a cell phone, eating, reading, painting your finger nails ….all that should be banned while driving.

      I am not innocent either.

      Suzanne

      October 1, 2009 at 10:51 am

    4. As it happens this came out today in the US – I am sorry but the source for this is Fox News
      http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2009/10/01/lahood-pledges-crack-distracted-driving-warns-fatal-consequences/

      Stephen Rees

      October 1, 2009 at 12:32 pm


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