The distracted driving dilemma

by Sonia Straface

KING CITY, Ont. — The audience was alert and focused during the distracted driving seminar at the Private Motor Truck Council of Canada’s (PMTC’s) annual conference in June.

Jamie Trull, health and safety program developer at the Infrastructure Health and Safety Association was the speaker.

He discussed all aspects of distracted driving – what it is, how hazardous it is, and how to prevent it – because of the recent legislation that was passed earlier this month that increased penalties for drivers who text or use a handheld phone while on the road.

“Under the new legislation fines for distracted driving will increase from the range of $60 to $500 to between $300 to $1,000, plus three demerit points,” said Trull.

Trull added that because of the new legislation, he and his team are developing a distracted driving training program that will be available later this year.

As explained by Trull, distracted driving is more than just using your phone while driving; it’s driving while engaged in other activities that take the driver’s attention away from the road, like eating, changing the radio station or reaching for something in your vehicle.

“Distracted driving has become a main source for roadway fatalities, injuries, and collisions in Ontario,” he added. “The last stat I found said that motor vehicle accidents are the number one cause of fatalities in the workplace in Ontario. There is a definite need for training for everyone behind the wheel for any type of machinery.”

The three main causes of why we become distracted while driving, according to Trull, are sensory overload (also known as multi-tasking), inattentional blindness and our short attention spans.

“When you try and multi-task while you’re driving, it impacts your ability to drive safely,” Trull said. “The more you put on your plate, the less efficient you’re going to be.” 

Multi-tasking can be anything from quickly checking your e-mail at a stop sign or eating a piece of fruit while driving.

Inattentional blindness is when you are focused on a collision on the road or let a bad day at work to cause you to daydream.

“If we’re focused on one specific task, like a tough day at work and all you can think about is that meeting, and all of a sudden, shoot…(you) miss (your) exit,” he said. “You weren’t focused on driving. When we focus intently on one task, we often fail to see other things in plain sight. It becomes a hazard when the driver is focusing on an object, person or event that is not relevant to their driving performance.”

And because of all the electronics in our lives, Trull said research shows that our attention span has dwindled from 12 seconds in 2000, to eight seconds in 2013.

This opens up a whole new opportunity to why so many drivers are reaching for their phones when they should be focused on the road, said Trull.

“If you’re talking on the phone, you increase your risk of being in a collision by 1.3 times,” he said, adding that reading increases your chances three-fold while reaching for an object makes you nine times more likely to get into an accident.

“And texting makes you 23 times more likely to get into a collision,” he said.

And though sending one text message may seem harmless to some, Trull warned attendees of the impact. 

“On average when we’re sending or receiving a text our eyes are off the road for four seconds,” he said.

To some that may not seem like a long time, so Trull asked if anyone in the audience would be willing to drive down Ontario’s Hwy. 401 blindfolded for four seconds. Not surprisingly, he heard crickets.

“On main highways you would travel the distance of a football field (in four seconds) blindfolded,” he said. “You’re missing signs, vehicles, cyclists, pedestrians, just to look at that text that can wait.”

To prevent distracted driving Trull said it is important for fleet owners to have a company policy for cell phone use while driving.

He noted one fleet he knows of tells its drivers their cell phone can only be kept in the back of the vehicle so it is out of reach of the driver and it is out of sight. Other fleets ban cell phone use while driving altogether.

He added other ways to prevent distracted driving include concentrating on your time management skills, so grooming (brushing your teeth, shaving, etc.) and eating doesn’t have to be done in the vehicle. 

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  • All these studies yet still the OPP has almost zero presence when it comes to distracted driving. Take one rush morning rush and the ease at which they could pick off literally hundreds of texters every day….
    But they arent there. Where are they you ask?… That’s easy, Waiting idly on off ramps or tucked into a hiding spot on the outskirts of the GTA for the chance to nail a speeder. I truly believe speed can be a problem and a safety issue, however, Wake up guys , the traffic is so bad in the GTA, there is almost nowhere to speed anymore , how about you step up enforcement on distracted driving instead of this ridiculous hide and seek for excess speed in areas where it’s not as much concern. Get out there in the rush hour and have a look inside all these cars. I could fill a ticket book every day in only a few shorts KMs across the top of Toronto. I see it every morning. What I don’t see is enforcement.
    You can do every study in the world , if you don’t react to the findings I find it all just a waste.

  • what about on board computer that the transport companys put in the truck cabs so the can call you and when you are a sleep it wakes you up
    just to tell wear you are going to pickup the next day