Understanding the risks of the new “impaired” driving: Distracted driving

Distracted driving is a growing road safety problem in Toronto and the rest of Ontario. Recent studies have indicated that preoccupied motorists are nearly as dangerous as drunk drivers. The telltale signs of a distracted driver on the roadway are uncannily similar to those of a drunk driver. Like drivers under the influence, distracted drivers commonly drift outside of their lanes, erratically slow down and accelerate and fail to properly react to changes on the roadway. As a result, distracted drivers are an increasing cause of car accidents, hurting themselves, passengers, other motorists as well as bicyclists and pedestrians.

Manual and visual impairment

Distracted driving is any action that diverts a driver’s attention away from the task of driving. Not only does it include texting and talking on a cell phone, but it also includes other actions that commonly occur behind the wheel. Those actions include eating and drinking, talking to passengers, using a navigation system, changing the radio or CD player, and grooming.

As of yet the attitude among drivers toward distracted driving is not the same as drunk driving. Even though, according to the Canadian Automobile Association, more than 60 percent of Canadian drivers witness other drivers texting and driving or talking and driving, a majority of adult drivers rate themselves as better than average drivers. However, recognition of distracted driving as a safety issue may quickly be changing as more than 40 percent of adults, in a Pew Research Center poll, identified themselves as having been passengers of drivers who dangerously used a cell phone while driving.

Cognitive impairment

Distracted driving is dangerous because it is a cognitive impairment as well. According to Carnegie Mellon, driving while using a cell phone reduces brain activity associated with the task of driving by more than one-third. Even more unsettling, the cognitive impairment of using a cell phone while driving is similar to impaired driving. The University of Utah in the United States conducted a study finding that using a cell phone while driving was the equivalent of driving with a blood alcohol content of .08 percent, which is the legal limit for alcohol intoxication in Ontario.

Text messaging is more dangerous than you may think

Text messaging is perhaps the most dangerous form of distracted driving because it requires a driver’s visual, manual and cognitive attention. On average, a driver devotes his or her full attention to a text message for five seconds. At 80 kilometres per hour, that is the equivalent of driving nearly 100 meters without glancing at the road, which dramatically increases the risk of accident. According to the CAA, drivers who text and driver are 23 times more likely to be involved in a crash or near crash event than non-distracted drivers.

Penalties for distracted driving

Legislators in provinces across Canada have responded to the danger of distracted driving and have passed laws on the issue. In Ontario, a law against text messaging and handheld cellphone use while driving has been in effect since February 2010. Drivers who fail to abide by Ontario’s distracted driving law face a fine of $155. Drivers in other provinces, such as British Columbia, face fines and license demerits. Currently, the Canadian Automobile Association is pushing provincial governments to widen their current laws to include a total ban on cell phone usage and other distractions as well as to mandate demerits in those provinces that do not already impose them.

Consult an lawyer if injury by another’s negligence

If you or a loved one has suffered injury because of someone else’s distracted driving, contact a lawyer experienced in personal injury to help secure your rights and to guide you on your path to recovery.