Canadian Underwriter

IBC supports Alberta’s bid to curb distracted driving, hike penalties

March 25, 2015   by Canadian Underwriter

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The Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC) is applauding proposed requirements in Alberta – which received the green light in the provincial legislative assembly Tuesday – that seek to curb distracted driving by beefing up fines and penalties for texting while behind the wheel.

Erie Insurance reports that survey results show that younger drivers text more Bill 204, the Traffic Safety (Distracted Driving Demerit) Amendment Act, 2014, was tabled last December by MLA Moe Amery and received unanimous support during third reading Tuesday.

The bill amends Alberta’s Traffic Safety Act by adding that a person who is guilty of an offence under subsections 115.1, 115.2, 115.3 or 115.4 is liable to a fine of $250 (up from $172) and shall be assessed three demerit points in accordance with the regulations. The aforementioned subsections under the Prohibited Operation of Vehicles section of the act are as follows: cellphones, electronic devices, etc.; display screen visible to driver prohibited; global positioning system; and prohibited activities.

Bill Adams, IBC’s vice president, Western & Pacific, calls the proposed requirements a step in the right direction to curb distracted driving. “Distracted driving puts the safety of everyone on the road in jeopardy. We hope that this bill and continued efforts to raise awareness will help bring an end to distracted driving,” Adams says in an IBC press release issued Tuesday evening.

Citing statistics from Alberta Transportation, IBC reports distracted drivers have been shown to be three times more likely to be in a crash than attentive drivers.

Distracted driving is clearly a country-wide issue. Last week, Saskatchewan Government Insurance (SGI) reported that police issued 245 tickets to distracted drivers in February. Driving while using a cellphone accounted for 184 of the tickets, SGI notes, adding that this also resulted in two vehicle seizures.

Related: Saskatchewan police caught 245 distracted drivers in February, SGI says

Suggesting that driving demands full attention and care, SGI advised motorists that “if you must send a text or take a call, pull over safely to the side of the road before doing so.”

The penalty for using a cellphone while driving in Saskatchewan is $280 and four demerit points.

Ontario is also looking to strengthen penalties for distracted driving. An omnibus bill that addresses, among other issues, distracted driving, was referred to the Standing Committee on General Government in late February.

Bill 31 – Transportation Statute Law Amendment Act (Making Ontario’s Roads Safer) – proposes raising distracted driving fines to between $300 and $1,000. The current range is $60 to $500.

“It should help to improve the safety on our roads,” New Democrat MPP Paul Miller said in the provincial legislature at the time. “It should help to reduce the needless loss of life on our roads, and we’re happy to support Bill 31.”

Online survey results released Wednesday by Pennsylvania-based Erie Insurance – conducted by Harris Poll from Feb. 23-25 and involving 1,915 U.S. drivers aged 18 and older – shows that distracted driving can be the result of many things. The results were released in conjunction with National Distracted Driving Awareness Month in April south of the border.

The distracting behaviours identified in the survey included the following: romantic encounter/PDA, 15%; combing/styling hair, 15%; changing clothes, 9%; putting on make-up, 8%; brushing/flossing teeth, 4%, taking selfies, 4%; changing drivers, 3%; and going to the bathroom, 3%.

Related: Merits of Demerits

“A distraction is anything that causes a driver to take their eyes off the road, their hands off the wheel, or their mind off their primary task of driving safely,” Doug Smith, senior vice president of personal lines at Erie Insurance, says in a company statement. “Our survey found drivers, unfortunately, are engaging in a wide range of distracting and potentially dangerous behaviours.”

Survey results also indicate texting while driving remains a serious problem, with 30% of respondents reporting that they themselves have done it and 75% saying they have seen others do it.

Texting by gender was fairly even, with 32% of male respondents reporting that they have texted while behind the wheel and 28% of female respondents saying they have done so.

The numbers varied more when looking at texting by age. Erie Insurance reports that sur
vey results show that younger drivers text more. Poll findings are as follows: ages 18 to 34, 51%; ages 35 to 44, 39%; ages 45 to 54, 33%; ages 55 to 64, 14%; and ages 65 and older, 7%.

“We hope that our survey will get people talking about the importance of eliminating distracted driving and keeping their focus on the road,” Smith says.

IBC emphasized Tuesday that it strongly supports all efforts to decrease the dangerous practice of texting while driving. Its message to all Canadian motorists is to drive now and text later.

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