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Distracted Driving

Definition

Distracted driving is a form of impaired driving as a driver's judgment is compromised when they are not fully focused on the road. Distracted driving qualifies as talking on a cell phone, texting, reading (e.g. books, maps, and newspapers), using a GPS, watching videos or movies, eating/drinking, smoking, personal grooming, adjusting the radio/CD and playing extremely loud music. Even talking to passengers and driving while fatigued (mentally and/or physically) can be forms of distracted driving.

Distracted driving can lead to:

  • Reduced reaction time
  • Impaired judgment
  • Possibly falling asleep behind the wheel
  • Injuring or killing yourself, your passengers and/or other people

Laws

The legal impacts of distracted driving can vary depending on the circumstances. In some provinces, a person can be fined up to over $500 and can lose up to 4 demerit points. Each province and territory in Canada has different laws regarding cell phone use while driving, as it is the number one cause of distracted driving in young adults.

Exemptions

There are special circumstances under which it is safe to use a cellular device. If you see a hazardous driver swerving or driving erratically, safely pull over with your hazard lights on and call 9-1-1. Gather as many details as you can, including the direction in which the car was going, the street it was on, and the make and model of the vehicle. Knowing the licence plate number can help too.

Do NOT call 9-1-1 if you spot someone using their phone who is not displaying dangerous driving behaviour. Instead, call your local police's non-emergency line to report it. Find the number for your area on your local police services website.

What You Can Do

To reduce distracted driving?

Driving always requires your full attention. Here are some distracted driving solutions provided to help make your drive safer:

Plan Your Route – Planning your route should occur before getting in the car so you have a good handle on where you're going and how you're going to get there. Plan how much time you'll need to reach your destination, road closures to avoid and best time to leave. If you will be using a GPS system, program your route prior to starting the car. If your GPS can call out the turns, you should have it set to do so. Have the volume set so you can hear the instructions and do not need to glance down to view the GPS.

Put your Cell Phone Away – Cell phones should be out of your reach. Reduce the temptation by keeping it out of sight, like in the trunk or in a bag, and turn the ringer off. Most smartphones can now be setup to send an auto reply when you receive a text or phone call.

Passengers – Passengers in your vehicle is a common distraction, as a result, graduated licensing (in some provinces) limits the number of passengers that are allowed with a younger driver. Advise your passengers to be quiet if a risky situation arises on the road; your attention will be less on the road if you're talking/listening to them. Silence will also help when deciding what the safest actions to take are.

Having passengers in your car differs from talking on the phone because the person on the other end of the phone will not know when to be quiet as they are unable to spot any safety risks.

Eating and Drinking – It's best to avoid eating and drinking while driving. If you need to take a drink, wait until you are stopped at a red light.

Music – Music should never be so loud that you would not be able to hear a siren, or the screech of brakes from another vehicle.

Personal Grooming – Do your personal grooming at home, not while driving a vehicle.

Secure Objects – Place any items like purses, backpacks and coats in the trunk or safely tucked behind the seat on the ground so they will not go flying if you have to brake in an emergency. Items that are flying around may distract you from the road. For example, items that are falling out of your purse might grab your attention and your instinctive reaction may be to reach for the things that are/went flying.

To reduce fatigued driving?

You can't always predict when you will begin feeling drowsy, but it's still important to remember that if you are struggling to stay awake, you shouldn't be behind the wheel. Everyone gets tired, so here are some tips on how to reduce your chances of this happening to you while behind the wheel:

  • Make sure you get enough sleep before you go on a trip
  • On long trips, switch drivers every few hours; you shouldn't be driving to the point of exhaustion.
  • Don't schedule trips before or after your usual wake-up and bed times
  • Drive during daylight hours when possible
  • If you are taking medicine that makes you drowsy, drive with someone else who can take over driving if necessary
  • Travel with someone who may be able to help keep you alert
  • Take a nap before driving