Toronto Police launched a week-long campaign today against distracted driving. (Sun files)

Toronto Police launched a week-long campaign today against distracted driving. (Sun files)

Are Ontarians getting the message on distracted driving?

Ontario Provincial Police Sgt. Kerry Schmidt says his officers “continually see people driving while being distracted.

“In terms of ‘Are they getting the message?’ I think they know the rules, I think people are quite aware of the situation,” Schmidt said. “But in terms of them thinking they’re the problem, I think that’s where the question is.”

The trouble is, people think they can get away with driving while doing something else, he said.

“They think they’re able to multi-task and text and drive,” Schmidt said. “It doesn’t seem like they’re getting the message all the time.”

While the number of fatal crashes in Ontario has declined in recent years, statistics from the OPP released in February indicate distracted driving is one of the top four causes of fatal collisions in the province.

The OPP said inattentive driving, impaired driving, not wearing a seatbelt and speeding are the top four factors in crash deaths.

“We certainly do see distracted driving as one of the biggest causal factors for fatal collisions,” Schmidt said.

In 2009, distracted driving claimed 71 lives. In 2014, it was cited for 73 deaths.

Toronto Police in a recent week-long crackdown laid a total of 3,653 Highway Traffic Act charges – 776 of them related to the use of a cellphone or electronic device while driving. The campaign – That Text or Call Could End It All – ran Feb. 16 to Feb. 22.

Toronto traffic services Const. Clint Stibbe said “it goes to show how many people were committing offences.”

Stibbe drove around in a hearse as part of the crackdown, a chilling reminder of serious consequences of driving distracted.

MADD Canada CEO Andy Murie said the decrease in drunk driving deaths from the 1970s and 1980s until now was no “overnight” feat.

“You don’t find anybody going around saying ‘I drove impaired last night,’ thinking it’s funny or acceptable behaviour,” Murie said.

“That’s one of the issues with distracted driving – people don’t think twice about it,’ he said. “Phones have become a piece of everybody’s life. Especially with young people, they’re not willing to lay them aside.”

Murie said the number of impaired driving deaths is still higher than distracted driving fatalities when coroner data is considered.

MADD Canada’s focus will remain on impaired driving for now. Murie has noticed several grassroots movements tackling distracted driving in North America.

“We need some kind of national group to be the voice of distracted driving too,” he added.

Source: Toronto Sun