Distracted Driving: Still the #1 Cause of Road Fatalities in Ontario

For the last few years, the OPP has held their Distracted Driving Awareness week in March. Every year, we hope that distracted driving statistics will go down, but inevitably, they do not. This year, the OPP announced that 65 people lost their lives due to distracted driving in 2016. Tragically, that is “more than drinking and driving, speeding or collisions where people were not wearing seatbelts for the fourth straight year.”

In fact, according to the OPP,  aside from 2012, “inattentive drivers have taken more lives on OPP-patrolled roads than speeding and alcohol-impaired drivers since Ontario distracted driving laws took effect in 2009.” Penalties (fine and demerits) for distracted driving increased in 2015, with seemingly no effect.

With numbers as discouraging as these, and in a time when our society is becoming ever more hooked on screens and technology, it’s hard to fathom what would be required to shift driver attitudes to reduce or eliminate distracted driving.

Federal Transport Minister Marc Garneau has called for tougher penalties for distracted driving, and for these penalties to be made uniform across the country. Currently, penalties range widely depending on the province (“from a high of $1,200 in Prince Edward Island to a mere $80-$100 in Quebec”).  This would require either cooperation from the provinces, or the federal government would need to pass legislation to make texting or talking while driving a specific criminal offense (these actions are already illegal if deemed to have become “dangerous driving”).

Minister Garneau is not alone in his concern. The Canadian Coalition on Distracted Driving released its National Action Plan last month; it sees the issue as the responsibility of many sectors and industries. Their plan “contains 15 action items organized according to four priority areas: education and prevention, enforcement, data and research, and technology and industry. It was designed to inspire and engage agencies concerned about distracted driving and provide them with tools to help reverse this trend.”

The reality is this: distracted driving was the cause of approximately 25% of all fatal crashes across Canada in 2013. Kudos to the forward-thinking leaders who understand that distracted driving is a deadly and pressing problem that requires immediate action and commitment.