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Dramatic rise in distracted driving deaths focus of police campaign

Waterloo Regional Police Service will implement multiple enforcement strategies to identify and charge distracted drivers during the Canada Safe Driving Week, May 16 to 22
distracted driving AdobeStock
Of the 13 fatal collisions in Waterloo Region in 2022, 46 per cent were linked to one or more of the Fatal Four offences, including distracted driving.

Fatal collisions caused by distracted driving have increased by 36 per cent between 2020 and 2022 in Ontario, according to Hello Safe, a platform that compares financial products and other metrics.

In 2022, 105 Ontarians died because of distracted drivers, compared to 348 deaths across Canada. Overall, Ontario had 30 per cent of the national cases.

“In Canada, distracted driving is the second biggest cause of traffic deaths after speeding,” Hello Safe states.

With data from Transport Canada, the platform reports that an estimated 1,768 Canadians lost their lives in 2021 as a result of a fatal collision. 

“Distracted driving would be responsible for 19.7 per cent of road deaths nationally, or about 348 victims directly related to this infraction in 2021. In comparison, speed is responsible for 24.7 per cent of fatal collisions, and 18 per cent are caused by environmental factors (weather, roadway defects, adverse traffic conditions).”

The main ways of distracted driving are cellular use (whether texting, calling, or looking at videos) but also programming a GPS, eating, drinking, reading, or grooming. Such behavior while driving has caused 18 per cent of fatal collisions in Ontario, the firm said.

Hello Safe website

More specifically, said the Hello Safe public relations officer, Alexandre Desoutter, “we have found that approximately 50 per cent of distracted driving collisions are linked to cellular use while the other 50 per cent are shared between programming a GPS, taking food, reading, or grooming.”

Even though Ontario has one of the highest penalties in the country for distracting driving—$615 for a violation, compared with $300 in Quebec and $543 in British Columbia—the number cases in Canada's most populous province have increased.

In the Waterloo region, distracted drivers continue to be identified as a major cause of collisions.

Waterloo Regional Police Service (WRPS) reports a total of 749 distracted driving charges in 2021.

Even though the amount reduced to 438 last year, officials encourage drivers to keep their eyes on the road.

“Distracted driving, along with impaired driving, seatbelt offences, and speed, are classified as the Fatal Four offences, which are key drivers of collisions involving major injuries and fatalities,” said Constable Melissa Quarrie, from the WRPS.

She said that of the 13 fatal collisions in Waterloo Region in 2022, 46 per cent were linked to one or more of the Fatal Four offences.

During the upcoming Canada Safe Driving Week, May 16-22, WRPS’s officers will focus on high-volume traffic areas and utilize multiple enforcement strategies to identify and charge distracted drivers, as part of its Road Safety Plan.

“Driving requires our full attention,” Quarrie told Cambridge Today. She encouraged drivers to turn off their phone or switch it to silent mode before getting into the car.

“Set their GPS and review directions before driving, and silence notifications that could tempt them to check their phone,” she added.

Nearly 3 out of 4 Canadian drivers admit to driving while distracted, says the Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC).

“You are 3.6 times more likely to crash if you use an electronic device while driving,” the IBC warns.

The IBC establishes four reasons why distracted driving should be avoided:

  1. It takes only three seconds after a driver’s attention has been diverted for a crash to occur.
  2. Sending or reading a text takes your eyes off the road for five seconds. At 90 km/h, that’s like driving the length of an entire football field with your eyes closed.
  3. You are 23 times more likely to be involved in a collision if you text while driving and four times more likely if you talk on a cellphone (hand-held or hands-free) while driving.
  4. You may be breaking the law. All provinces in Canada, plus the Yukon and Northwest Territories, have bans in place on using hand-held cellphones and electronic devices while driving. Depending on the legislation, penalties can include hefty fines and, in many cases, demerit points.

Broker Link in Cambridge recommends young drivers minimize distractions.

“It can be tempting to blast the radio, check your phone, or sip on a drink while driving, but doing so could have serious consequences,” it says on the website.

Texting-while-driving is illegal in Canada. The firm recommends putting the phone down, even when stopped at a traffic light.

“When you are behind the wheel, your focus should be on the road and the road only. So before you put the car into drive, finish your drink, set the radio to a station you like, and put your phone somewhere you can’t see it,” Broker Link says.