A new survey from the Canadian Automobile Association (CAA) finds that one-third of Canadian drivers admit to texting at red lights sometime during the past month, a result which shows that efforts to combat distracted driving habits still have a long drive ahead in getting Canadians to curb the dangerous habit.
“These numbers are troubling,” says Jeff Walker, vice-president of public affairs for CAA National in a press release. “The effect of texting at a red light lingers well after the light turns green, making it a dangerous driving habit.”
The poll of 2,012 Canadians found that 70 per cent of respondents believe that using their phone at a red light is unacceptable, indicating that a substantial portion of Canadians are still not convinced that the practice is dangerous enough to be prohibited.
“It’s socially unacceptable to drive drunk, and that’s where we need to get with texting,” says Walker. “Attitudes are beginning to shift, but our actions need to follow.”
The CAA reports that drivers who are texting are 23 times more likely to be involved in a crash or near-crash event than non-distracted drivers, and distracted driving is now the main cause of fatal road fatalities in provinces and territories across the country.
The new poll comes even as the cost of being caught texting while driving continues to climb nationwide. Every province and two of the three territories now have distracted driving legislation in place, with Nunavut being the lone hold-out. Minimum fines range from a low of $80 in Quebec to as much as $543 in BC, where this past June saw the province raise the minimum penalty by $167, delivering a first time price tag of $543, which includes a $368 fine plus a $175 cost for paying off points against the license. BC’s first time offence comes with a hit of four demerit points (across Canada, the range is between three and five points), with the dent to the bank account shooting up substantially with further offences: a second will run you $888 while a fifth will cost $3,760.
In the fight to change Canadians’ behaviour behind the wheel, another option that has been suggested is making distracted driving a criminal offence. As reported in the National Post, this past fall’s meeting of federal and provincial transport ministers involved discussion on the topic. Although no consensus was reached, the urgency of the matter was clearly evident.
“I think every single province and territory for the most part spoke out because it is an epidemic across the country,” said Ontario Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca. “There were different opinions in the room about the need to criminalize the behaviour.”
Federal Transport Minister Marc Garneau said that the public needs to be more informed about provincial legislation in order to drive the message home.
“I’m not sure everybody knows about them because everyone is so casual about the whole thing,” said Garneau. “We need to get that message out much more quickly to make Canadians aware of the fact that this is a serious impediment to driving a car properly.”