Albertans’ thumbs are getting plenty of exercise these days. If you’ve pulled up to a red light lately and think you’ve noticed the drivers around you staring into their laps as they madly scratch at their phones, you aren’t alone. A recent AMA survey probed a little deeper into behaviours like text messaging while driving.
When it comes to staying connected through our phones and tablets, 71% of adults surveyed reported using text messaging or instant messaging apps in their daily lives. In the 18-24 year age group, that number sky-rocketed to more than 97% of respondents regularly sending out LOLs from their hand held devices.
Among those texters, only 32% admitted to texting while they were behind the wheel. Most people said they rarely type out messages while on the move, with only 4% identifying as regularly reading or sending texts while driving.
What’s it gonna take to get the message?
But based on what we see daily on the drive home from work, it’s hard to ignore the apparent increase in texting and driving. Are we simply a province of law-breaking, finger-tapping outlaws who would rather fine tune their dinner reservations than watch out for hazards on the road? Don’t people know they can face a $172 ticket if they get caught? Or that – if they really start swerving around the road – they might face the more serious charge of ‘driving carelessly’ which carries six demerits and a wallet-chomping $402 fine?
Put a stop to texting… even when you’re stopped.
So we asked people why they text and drive and nearly half (48%) of distracted drivers indicated they did so because they were stopped in traffic, while just 32% claimed to be responding to an urgent message. While some Albertans see a traffic stop as a safe zone for texting, it’s hard to safely share the road with other vehicles, pedestrians or cyclists when you tune out at every red light, train crossing or traffic jam.
The fact is that conversations – on the phone or in the vehicle – provide a cognitive distraction that takes attention away from driving. And some studies have shown that the extra physical and visual distractions of texting increase the chance of a collision by up to 23 times. Those texting drivers who ‘hide’ their phones in their laps only add to the danger by taking their eyes and their minds off the road.
“Just you wait until your Father gets home!”
So is it time for a tough love approach that cracks the whip at all those Tommy Texters? Police forces around Alberta have called for tougher penalties and in Manitoba they’ve even mused about seizing cell phones from distracted drivers. At AMA we’re hoping to see more education, greater awareness, and more consistent enforcement before talking about increased fines and demerits.