Airdrie RCMP issued more than 1,100 fines for distracted driving violations in 2019, according to Cst. Tracy Hare, an officer with the detachment’s Municipal Traffic Services.
The number of tickets issued is consistent with numbers from 2018, Hare said, but marks a considerable increase from the two years prior.
“It is an ongoing issue that we’re dealing with on a daily basis,” she said. “As a driver, I’m sure everyone has noted someone on their phone or distracted in some way while they were operating their vehicles.
“It’s…something drivers need to be more aware of – paying attention to the road and getting their eyes off their phones.”
Hare said most tickets were handed out during rush hour on the city’s main east-west thoroughfares – Veterans Blvd. and Yankee Valley Blvd. However, she noted, distracted driving is not isolated to those times or roads.
“We tend to see it then because volume is higher, so the more people who are on the road, the more people we’re going to see on their phones,” she said. “People may be sitting at a light for longer periods there, and they tend to reach for their phones at those times.”
Despite a growing public awareness of the dangers of distracted driving, Hare said RCMP has noticed an uptick in the number of fines issued in the last few years. The detachment saw violations more than double from roughly 500 in 2017 to more than 1,100 in 2018.
“The last two years have [seen] our highest number of tickets issued for distracted driving,” she said.
“Phones have become a tool we use on a daily basis and people are carrying that over into their vehicles, when they’re operating them.”
Along with the increased prevalence of phone use, another reason for the escalation could be a lack of deterrent, according to Hare. Alberta has some of the softest punishments for distracted driving – the penalty for using a phone while operating a motor vehicle is a $287 fine and three demerit points.
“Across the country, penalties are quite higher,” she said. “In some provinces, the fines are more than $1,000 and your vehicle is seized.”
Still, distracted driving is not only a rising concern in Airdrie, but nationally. According to Robyn Robertson, president and chief executive officer of the Traffic Research and Injury Foundation, distracted driving is a contributing factor in nearly one quarter of all fatal vehicle collisions in Canada. She said distracted driving plays a part in more than 300 deaths, annually.
“On one hand, people report a high level of concern about distracted driving, and on the other hand, a large percentage of drivers self-report engaging in distracted driving behaviours, so the problem is pretty prevalent,” she said. “Some distracted behaviours are things we’ve done in our car for a very long time, so we may not intuitively recognize them as being distracting. People perceive they’re safer, for various reasons, and they’re often not aware that just a second they’re doing this or that is often more than just a second.”
Robertson said understanding why drivers distract themselves, and working to motivate behavioural changes, will help reduce these numbers and keep drivers focused on the road.
One positive change, she added, would be for companies that employ drivers to adopt distracted driving policies as part of their workplace safety programs.
“Penalties and sanctions play an important role in shaping behaviour and defining what’s acceptable and what’s not, but I also think we need a high level of enforcement to field the deterrent effect of those penalties,” she said. “I think it’s very resource-intensive for law enforcement to sustain the level of enforcement needed to make those laws effective, so I think we need to invest more time and energy into education, generally.”
At the local level, Hare said, educating Airdronians about the dangers of distracted driving is one of Airdrie RCMP’s priorities this year. She said she often gives presentations at local high schools, to preach the importance of avoiding distractions to students who are just beginning or learning to get behind the wheel.
Hare recommends being creative when coming up with ways to prevent distracted driving – like putting your cell phone in the glove compartment or in a bag on the back seat, installing Bluetooth or hands-free software, pulling over safely to take a call or downloading ‘do not disturb’ apps to stop notifications, alerts and sounds on your phone when the vehicle is in motion.