Distracted driving: dealing with the dangers
You’re a good driver, so why should you care about distracted driving?
The reality is that it’s becoming increasingly difficult to leave handheld devices out of view, whether you’re sitting at your desk or in the driver’s seat. And no matter how well you’ve mastered the art of getting from point A to point B, a lifetime of experience won’t save you from the dangers of using these distracting devices while driving – or the problems that arise when your employees text, call or surf when they’re behind the wheel.
In Ontario, January 1, 2019 brought even harsher penalties for distracted driving. Steeper fines and sharper punishments mean that, now more than ever, drivers need to take distracted driving very seriously.
An alarming distracted driving trend
The number of distracted driving incidents has gone up year after year, and it’s likely no coincidence that the number of traffic fatalities has also increased. The National Safety Council estimates that 40,000 people died in motor vehicle crashes in 2016 and 2017 – up 6% from 2015, and up 14% from 2014.
What these statistics miss is the massive amount of injuries, write-offs and traffic tickets that result from distracted driving. Take time now to get familiar with the dangers related to distracted driving, plus some ways to help you manage your risk and protect your business.
What’s the worst that could happen?
While there are no hard numbers to indicate just how often cellphones are to blame for fatal accidents ¹, experts agree that distracted driving is a growing concern, and handheld devices are the major culprits. Texting is likely the worst activity of all: according to research from the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, taking five seconds to send or receive a text while driving at highway speed is equal to traveling the length of a football field while blindfolded.²
The danger is so serious that some regions are showing no mercy with their distracted driving laws. One B.C. driver was slapped with a ticket when he took the opportunity to plug his phone into a charger while stopped at an intersection. Although he was stopped and not actually using the phone, it was enough to break the law.
Taking five seconds to send or receive a text while driving at highway speed is equal to traveling the length of a football field while blindfolded.
Distracted driving laws and penalties
As of 2016, every province and territory except for Nunavut has instituted a law against using distracting devices while driving, but the specifics will differ from one region to the next. Since fine amounts, demerit levels and other nuances in the provincial laws can vary widely, it’s important to closely review the law that applies to you. If you’re planning a cross-country trip, you may want to familiarize yourself with the other jurisdictions, too.
What devices are outlawed?
Financial penalty and demerit points are important consequences to consider, but you should also know what types of devices and activities are covered under your provincial distracted driving law. Check to see whether some devices are permitted, or if all handheld and hands-free devices are prohibited for drivers in your province.
Of course, electronic devices aren’t the only source of distraction when you’re behind the wheel. Things like eating, adjusting the radio, reading or typing a destination into a GPS system are also dangerous – and can also carry penalties for the driver.³
Tips to stay safe on the road
Although handheld devices are generally off-limits, there are some other ways to stay connected while you’re driving. In some cases, drivers can use the following modes and systems:
- Cell phones on a hands-free mode (Bluetooth).
- GPS secured to the dashboard.
- Display screen used for collision avoidance systems.
- Display screens that indicate the status of the systems associated with the vehicle.
However, even a hands-free device isn’t safe to use all the time. In fact, there are several situations when using cell phones or devices of any sort is probably inappropriate, including:
- Hazardous road conditions due to weather, roadwork or other obstacles.
- Emotional or stressful conversations – this psychological distress adds another layer of distraction.
- Text messaging. Never text in the driver’s seat, even when your vehicle is stopped.
- Operating construction or contractor’s equipment, which demands your full attention when the machine is in gear.
If you manage a fleet, it’s a good idea to include a policy on the use of wireless communication devices in your Fleet Safety Program. Consider using clear and straightforward guidelines for your employees to follow when they’re on the road, including:
- Only use a handheld device when lawfully parked.
- Never answer a ringing phone while driving (unless it’s via Bluetooth).
- Listen to voicemail messages later, while lawfully parked.
- Always comply with laws.
- Keep the conversation as short as possible.
In cases when a call is absolutely necessary, it should be made in a hands-free mode – instruct your employees to use the voice-dialing feature on the phone.
Protect and prepare with the right coverage
It can be difficult to manage distracted driving risks as people become more and more reliant on their devices, but it makes good sense to put some extra energy into prevention in order to avoid expensive – or tragic – consequences.
With helpful extras like direct access to risk management expertise and transportation training, Northbridge Insurance offers Transportation & Logistics coverage that not only protects your fleet, but helps you stay one step ahead of the challenges you may meet on and off the road. Speak with one of our reputed brokers about your ideal insurance policy.
¹ National Safety Council, Cell Phone Distracted Driving Severely Underreported, 2011
² Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, Driver Distraction in Commercial Vehicle Operations, September 2009.
³ Ontario Ministry of Transportation, Distracted Driving, January 2017.