Prevention System Updates

Distracted driving: the laws are working

Release Date:  Apr 02, 2012

Research conducted by the California Office of Traffic Safety (OTS) suggests that banning cell phone use while driving has reduced traffic fatalities and injuries. State crash records for two years before and two years after a hand-held ban went into effect in July 2008 show that overall traffic deaths declined 22% while hand-held cell phone driver deaths went down 47%.1 Similar results were shown for hands-free cell phone use as well as injuries in both categories.

OTS identified two contributing factors behind the reductions:

  • an overall drop in cell phone usage while driving. A statewide survey commissioned by OTS in summer 2011 showed 40% of drivers reported talking less on handheld and hands-free phones since the ban was enacted. Another survey conducted in February 2010 by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reported similar results: 44% of drivers in states with bans reported they don't use phones when driving, compared with 30% in states without such laws.
  • visible, publicized enforcement. The California Department of Motor Vehicles reports that enforcement officers issued 460,487 hand-held cell phone convictions in 2011, up 22% from 2010 (361,260) and 52% in 2009 (301,833). The cost of a ticket for a first offense is at least US$159, and US$279 for subsequent offenses. A public awareness campaign features TV, radio commercials, billboards, Internet, social media and other outreach, such as 625 permanent changeable message signs.

Ontario continues enforcing cell phone ban

In February, both the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) and the Toronto Police Service conducted campaigns enforcing the province’s distracted driving legislation.

From February 13 to 19, OPP officers across the province charged 2,454 drivers with distraction-related offences, or 350 a day.2 "We'd prefer the number of drivers charged each day was zero," says deputy commissioner Larry Beechey, provincial commander of traffic safety and operational support. "Although we have indeed had some success with our campaign, this is a clear indication that we have a great deal of work to do yet."

In the first seven weeks of 2012, the organization attributed nine deaths on OPP patrolled roads to an inattentive driver. That's more than alcohol and speed combined.

In the same one-week period, the Toronto Police Service laid 9,876 charges,3 as follows:

  • 129 for a display screen visible to the driver
  • 1,705 for hand-held communication device
  • 77 for hand-held entertainment device
  • 121 for careless driving

Distracted driving refers to all forms of distracted or inattentive driving, such as adjusting a vehicle's entertainment or GPS unit, eating and drinking, using a hand-held device or viewing a DVD player or computer screen, etc. Drivers must realize that the true danger to public safety lies in the distraction, not the device, says the police service.

Under the Highway Traffic Act of Ontario, using a cell phone or device capable of texting while driving can result in a $155 fine. Also, watching an entertainment device can result in a $110 fine.

1 Source, U.S. statistics: Cell Phone Distracted Driving Deaths Down Since Laws Enacted, California Office of Traffic Safety, March 5, 2012; www.ots.ca.gov/Media_and_Research/Press_Room/2012
2 Source, Ontario statistics: Was Distracted Driving Campaign a Success or Failure, Ontario Provincial Police, February 23, 2012, www.opp.ca/ecms/index.php?id=405&nid=768
3 Source, Toronto statistics: Distracted driving campaign results, Toronto Police Service, February 21, 2012, www.torontopolice.on.ca/newsreleases