Putting the brakes on distracted driving

May 29, 2013

If you're still using your mobile phone behind the wheel, University of Alberta sociology researcher Abu Nurullah likely has your number.

More specifically, he can tell what statistical category you fall under. Using from mid-2011—just months before Alberta's distracted-driving law went into effect—Nurullah and his colleagues determined several characteristics of people who appear to top the risk scale by using cellphones while driving. The data are useful for police who have to deal with unlawful drive-and-dialers, and for policy-makers seeking to change offenders' habits with ad campaigns.

Nurullah says that although campaigns are an important piece of curbing the behaviour, social pressure from family and friends is also important.

"I think the is the key one. Friends, family, employers—they should be influencing others to reduce the use of cellphones while driving," he said. "Effective enforcement of the laws should include not only fines for such offences, but also mandatory lessons on the dangers of cellphone use while operating a vehicle."

Driving : by the numbers:

  • Men outnumbered women by almost 10 per cent in phone use while driving. The largest proportion of offenders in both groups fell in the 35-to-44 age category.
  • The majority of had completed post-secondary education.
  • Among income brackets, the lowest income earners had the lowest level of cellphone use while driving. Rates of use increased with each income category, with those earning over $100,000 per year being the top users.
  • A slight majority of users indicated not being religious.

"These stats can be used to identify the worst offenders for effective enforcement of laws that deter cellphone use while operating a vehicle," said Nurullah. "Since males are more likely to undertake risky driving, it is expected that they would use cellphones more in driving situations."

Attitude adjustment: Social pressure and education critical

The survey also highlighted people's perceptions of the dangers of using a cellphone while driving. The majority of people—those who used cellphones while driving and those who didn't—agreed that texting while driving was dangerous and that cellphone use was more likely to result in a collision. But a much smaller minority said they didn't believe use is as dangerous as impaired driving.

Though the legislation introduced in 2011 may have curbed some use, Nurullah says that a common levelling-off effect means other measures need to be put in place to convince itinerant talkers to hang up and drive.

"There should be an emphasis on educating people about this, changing people's mindsets about doing this, because it is risky," he said. "There is no alternative to social pressure because it is more effective than legal enforcement. Social media campaigns can also be designed to make people informed about safe practices involving the use of cellphones."

Explore further: Big four cellphone carriers unite on anti-texting ads (Update)

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2.6 / 5 (10) May 30, 2013
There are plenty of people who still have not received the memo, or think it is for somebody else, just like those red lights, speed limit signs and pedestrian crossings.
1 / 5 (5) May 30, 2013
Nothing is mentioned about rate of use/owner and rate of ownership. Poorer people use cell phones less often when driving because they have a lower rate of ownership.

Good basis for a study but VERY POOR analyses' of collected data, or did the researchers have a hidden agenda?
1.2 / 5 (6) May 30, 2013
I have a genius IQ and I'm smart enough to never use a cell phone while driving. As you might expect, quite a few of my friends are geniuses too, also my children and their spouses.NONE of these intelligent people ever use a cell phone while driving. Another part of the problem is that scientific studies have shown that people who think they are the best at multitasking, are actually the worst. Note: studies have shown that hands-free cell phoning is no safer. It is not the same as carrying on a conversation with someone in your car..

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