A new study suggests that talking on a hand-held device while driving does not increase the risk of driver distraction compared with using a hands free device.
Published in the journal Accident Analysis Prevention the study involved a meta-analysis of driving studies over the past decade to assess the “safety-critical event risk” associated with various mobile phone behaviors like talking, dialing, texting and browsing.
The results showed that tasks which required drivers to take their eyes off the road such as dialing a phone or texting – or even looking for your phone – increased the safety-critical event risk but the act of talking on a handheld device in and of itself did not increase this risk.
This news comes at a time when provincial legislatures across Canada are ramping up their efforts to curb the use of handheld devices in cars. Over the past year, the provinces of Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec and Nova Scotia all put forth new rules for distracted driving. And as of January 1, 2016, Albertan drivers will be hit with a $287 fine for distracted driving. (Which is still child’s play in comparison to PEI where the maximum fine can hit a whopping $1200.)
According to CTV News, between September 2011 and March 2015 there were 87,633 convictions for distracted driving in the province of Alberta, 97% of which concerned the use of hand-held devices.
And in BC, where the fine currently sits at $167, there are plans to up the ante as well. Attorney General Suzanne Anton has said in a statement, “We know our penalties are too low – and our government is going to fix this.”
But a report from the World Health Organization calls into question the effectiveness of levying fines as a way to decrease accidents due to distracted driving. The report states that on a global scale, banning the use of hands-free devices in cars has become much more common and measures to enforce legislation have been intensified, particularly in Europe where distracted driving in places like Ireland can even result in a jail sentence.
Nevertheless, the report is also critical of jurisdictions that focus on the single-minded approach of fines to achieve a positive result. “The data suggests that in many countries, legislative effects have not been very successful in sustaining reduced mobile phone use rates.” Rather, the WHO warns that laws are “not sufficient by themselves” to produce the desired impact on driver distraction and behavior.
Instead, the report appeals to other tactics to supplement legislation, such as public awareness campaigns and technology-driven solutions like smart keys for young drivers that have the ability to control speed limits, stereo volume and so on.
To that point, young entrepreneur T.J. Evarts has been marketing his SMARTWheel device, which keeps tabs on whether or not both of a young driver’s hands are firmly placed on the steering wheel and can send the information back to anxious parents waiting at home. Evarts’ product won financial backing on the television show Shark Tank and has been given the thumbs up by President Obama at a recent visit to the White House.
The study on hand-held devices and driver distraction was carried out by researchers from the Department of Psychology at the University of Calgary and the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Alberta.