Knowing that texting while driving is against the law in Ontario hasn’t stopped youth and young adult drivers from using their cell phones and handhelds while behind the wheel, a new report from Public Health Ontario (PHO) has found.
In Texting While Driving Behaviour among Ontario Youth and Young Adults, senior author Dr. Heather Manson, chief of health promotion, chronic disease and injury prevention at PHO, found that 90 per cent of survey participants knew about Ontario’s laws against distracted driving. Despite this knowledge, a significant number still reported reading and sending texts while driving.
“Overall, survey participants felt texting while driving was risky and dangerous,” notes Dr. Manson. “The greatest percentage reported they would feel guilty if they read/sent texts while driving; they think reading/sending texts while driving is wrong; and reading/sending texts while driving is against their principles. Yet many still reported texting while driving.”
The online survey of 2,000 Ontario residents aged 16 to 24 included questions on whether the participants had ever engaged in texting while driving, what they thought about the behaviour and why they did it.
“For us, there were three major surprises from this research. First, there was a perception that sending texts while driving was ‘more dangerous’ than reading texts, whereas both are causes of distraction. Second, the number of people who self-reported texting while driving was lower than we anticipated, despite the perception that ‘everyone’s doing it,'” says Dr. Manson.
“Finally, we were surprised that despite awareness of the law and strong beliefs against the behaviour, over half reported reading, and just over a third reported sending, text messages while driving.”
If current collision trends continue, fatalities from distracted driving may exceed those from drinking and driving by 2016, notes Ontario’s Ministry of Transportation. In October 2009, Ontario introduced a ban on the use of handheld devices while driving to limit the risk and harm associated with distracted driving, and the legislation was strengthened in 2014.
A public awareness and education campaign was also introduced to raise awareness about the legislated changes and stimulate behaviour change. Starting this fall, penalties for distracted driving convictions include much higher fines, demerit points and license suspensions.
Dr. Donald Redelmeier, a physician at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre and a senior scientist at the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences in Toronto, has studied the issue of cell phone use while driving and the increased risk of collisions. “Texting while driving carries with it substantial risk, for the driver, the passengers, others on the road and pedestrians. One good piece of news from this report is that texting while driving among teens and adults is not as high as we thought it’d be. When developing policies and public awareness campaigns aimed at driving behaviour change, it may be important for people to note – that texting while driving isn’t the norm, and everyone isn’t doing it. Broad social acceptance of that message could hopefully make texting while driving as socially unacceptable as drinking and driving.”