While 91% of Ontario drivers believe that distracted driving has become a big problem, only 32% of them identify themselves as distracted drivers, according to new research from CAA South Central Ontario (CAA SCO).
In its poll, CAA SCO found that prior to being given a comprehensive definition of what distracted driving actually entails, almost a third of Ontario drivers who say it is a problem admit to being part of that problem. However, once distracted driving was defined, that figure jumped to 43%.
Almost half (45%) of the respondents say they often see other drivers holding a phone, but only 3% said they've been guilty of doing the same.
"Distracted driving continues to be a challenge on Ontario's roads, nearly a decade after the initial legislation banning handheld devices was introduced," says Elliott Silverstein, Manager of Government Relations, CAA SCO. "There continues to be a general lack of understanding by many drivers who don't realize that distracted driving is more than just holding your phone. It's anything that diverts your attention away from the road, whether it be your phone, food, or the radio."
According to the survey, the most likely offenders are highway drivers (58%), followed by those who commute 90 minutes or more (54%) and drivers aged 25-34 (59%).
Distracted motorists justified their behaviour in the following circumstances: 41% say in case of emergency; 41% think it's okay while they are stopped at a red light; and 36% feel being stuck in traffic is reason to distract themselves with other things.
"There is no justification for distracted driving," says Silverstein. "A moment of distraction can have dangerous, if not fatal consequences. Just because your vehicle isn't in motion doesn't mean you can take your eyes off the road."
The new survey data comes about a month after tougher laws and penalties took effect in Ontario. On January 1, 2019, the province strengthened its distracted driving laws and penalties, making them among the toughest in North America. A first conviction for distracted driving carries a three-day licence suspension, three demerit points and a minimum fine of $615 (up to $1,000). A second conviction will result in a minimum fine of $615 (up to $2,000), six demerit points, and a seven-day licence suspension. For a third (or more) convictions, drivers will face a minimum fine of $615 (up to $3,000), six demerit points, and a 30-day licence suspension.
The increased fines are the first since 2015 when demerit points were added to distracted driving convictions. Eighty-three per cent of those polled support the new measures.
The study was conducted online by Campaign Research between January 10 and 14, 2019 among a panel of 1,504 Ontario residents who were 18 years of age or older.
Photo: Manitoba Public Insurance