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Is texting and driving more dangerous than drinking and driving?

By Kevin Chan in Car Accidents, Pedestrian Accidents on February 26, 2022

Is texting and driving more dangerous than drinking and driving?

Mobile devices have gone from being a novel tech item to becoming an essential item for people everywhere. Now, there’s near-constant communication, whether by phone, text, or social media. It has become second nature for people to want to stay in touch with people in their lives, whether they’re walking down the road, in an elevator, or driving a car, and for some, texting has become their communication medium of choice.

Despite the efforts of law enforcement and public awareness campaign, there is a sense that people still seem to hold on to the popular belief that texting while driving is maybe not the safest thing to do, it definitely is not that dangerous, and definitely shouldn’t be considered as dangerous as drinking while driving, or “impaired driving”. But is that really the case?

Since people need to watch their screens to see what they’re typing or to read the replies that are coming in, their attention is taken away from other things happening around them; and while almost running into someone because you were staring at your phone is, at worst, an annoyance, texting while driving falls under what is called “distracted driving” by the Canadian criminal code and very much illegal. 

We understand for many, there is a social pressure to stay connected – but remember, texting and driving is a major cause of car accidents in Ontario. Insure.ca tells us that approximately 330,000 injuries are a direct result of texting while driving. Even more shocking – is that 47% of drivers in Canada have admitted to using their phone while driving. Sending or reading a simple text can take your eyes off the road for at least 5 seconds. At 90 km/hr, that’s like driving the length of an entire football field with your eyes closed.

Handling misconceptions

First and foremost, a focus on texting and driving should not take away any attention from the importance of stopping drinking and driving. Impaired driving is a safety concern that continues to be an issue in Canada. Despite years of public campaigns preaching “Don’t drink and drive” and the fact that the majority of people today would agree that drinking and driving is not safe driving etiquette, it remains one of the top reasons for road accidents and accidents involving personal injury in Canada. In 2019, there were over 85,000 cases of impaired driving reported to the police. 

Thanks to all the scientific and anecdotal evidence pointing to different ways that it affects a driver’s ability to safely control a vehicle, convincing the general public that drinking and driving is a danger to all is not at all challenging. Most people who drink will be familiar with at least some of the effects that consuming alcohol can have:

  • slows down a driver’s decision-making negatively impacts reaction speed and response time
  • causes drowsiness
  • can result in blurry or impaired vision
  • lowers inhibitions and encourages reckless behavior

Even without the hindsight from experiencing an incident on the road while drinking, most people who drink would be able to come to the conclusion that drinking and driving is not a great idea. On top of that, most drivers would be aware that it is illegal to drink alcohol and operate a vehicle (to be precise, it is illegal to have more than 80 mg of blood-alcohol concentration (BAC) per 100 ml of blood). 

In addition to drinking alcohol while driving, it’s also important to mention that impaired driving laws also prohibit drivers from having other substances in their system while they drive. Aside from alcohol, it is also illegal to have cannabis, LSD, ketamine, cocaine and GHB in your system while driving. 

Distracted driving: what makes texting dangerous.

Texting and driving falls under a different category: distracted driving. Distracted driving in Canada is defined as anything that removes a driver’s complete attention away from the act of driving. This can be any event, person, or thing that is unrelated to driving which causes the driver to shift their focus away from their primary responsibility, which is to safely operate the vehicle. 

  • texting while driving
  • calling someone while driving
  • glancing at the phone while driving
  • adjusting the radio while driving
  • turning around to look at the person in the backseat while driving
  • having a mobile device in your hand while waiting for the traffic signal to turn green while driving

Distracted driving may seem to refer to a few cases of careless driving by inexperienced drivers, but the results say otherwise. Distracted driving accounted for 21% of fatal collisions and 27% of serious injury collisions in 2016, and the numbers continue to rise; today, it’s estimated that 1.6 million crashes annually are a result of distracted driving. With technology expected to only continue to be an important part of society, some experts are afraid that cases of distracted driving will surpass cases of impaired driving, 

Multi-tasking: just because we can doesn’t mean we should.

It is the innocent and everyday nature of using a mobile device that makes distracted driving increasingly more dangerous than drinking and driving. With few exceptions, most people would not argue that they are as good a driver while drinking as they are sober. Whether warranted or not, there is a public wariness about alcohol—it’s not freely available, there are age restrictions around who is allowed to have access to it, and strict rules regarding the consumption of alcohol. Although some might try to argue that they still have full function while they drink and drive, they would be the minority. 

In contrast, mobile devices are everywhere; not only are there fewer controls over who can buy and use one but most are so accustomed to having a mobile device that it seems odd to be without one. By now, a whole generation of children has now grown up to adulthood learning, using and being entertained on mobile devices, and it would not be out of the ordinary for many adults to have multiple devices at home, between their smartphones, tablets and laptops. While few would argue about the diminishing effects of alcohol on your focus and ability to function, multitasking with a mobile device might seem normal for some. Warning someone about the dangers of texting while driving might feel like an attack on their ability to multitask. 

Science says that people are not that good at multi-tasking, anyway.

Although some might feel insulted when told not to text and drive, there’s no reason to be: research shows that people, despite what we might believe about our honed abilities to juggle three or four things at a time, are not designed for multi-tasking. People are naturally only able to focus on one job at a time. What some believe to be focusing on multiple things at the same time – such as texting (or speaking on the phone, or doing make-up, etc) and driving –  is, in reality, a quick shift between different subjects, which people misunderstand as multi-tasking. 

Most importantly, when people shift their attention from one subject to another, they literally lose “sight” of the other subject: a driver going at 100 km/h can go 52 meters in 2 seconds, whether they are paying attention or not. If the driver’s attention is shifted for even just 2 seconds – say, to open up a text message – they are unable to see whatever is in the 52 meters in front of their car, whether it’s open road, another car, or a person. They also may not be able to fully understand the details that are in front of them; their eyes may be registering what is in front of them, but because their attention is shifting quickly between two focal points, they’re not able to understand what they are seeing, often until it’s too late.

Knowledge is the first step towards a safer future.

A vehicle is a heavy, dangerous object, and handled irresponsibly, it can be as deadly as any other weapon. Putting aside for a moment the pride of being tech-savvy or an experienced driver, understanding the responsibility of sitting behind the wheel has to be the first step to eliminating distracted driving. 

Statistically speaking, drinking and driving is still more dangerous than texting and driving, but it may not be that way for very long: even with 85,000 cases related to drinking and driving, the figure represents a significant drop in cases of impaired driving, while over the same period of time, cases of distracted driving have risen significantly. In 2020, 47% of Canadians self-reported having messaged someone while driving, and while not every one of those cases resulted in an accident, that’s a risk that’s just not worth taking. Every driver who decides to wait until they’re at their destination to check their messages is one less potential tragedy waiting to happen. 

Some Common FAQ

What if I’m waiting for an important text message?

Understand that, in Ontario, even holding your cellphone while driving could be considered distracted driving. The best thing you can do if you need to check your phone is to pull over somewhere, place your vehicle in the park, and then check your messages.

How dangerous is texting and driving?

Here are some scary stats! 47% of drivers admitted to using a phone while driving a motor vehicle in 2020, Distracted driving causes around one-fifth of all car accident fatalities in Canada, studies have shown that 33% of Canadians use a phone while waiting for the green light, 27% of all serious car accident injuries are the direct result of texting and driving and distracted drivers are 3.6 more likely to be involved in a motor vehicle crashes.

How is texting and driving a distraction?

Taking your eyes off the road for 5 seconds to read a message while driving at 90 km/h means that you’ll cross the length of a football field without looking. It’s practically the same as driving blindfolded for 5 seconds. 

What if I’m stopped by police for distracted driving?

Penalties depend on the region (province and country); in Ontario, Canada, fines start from $300 and can go up to $1000 upon the first arrest.

Do more experienced drivers really need to be concerned with distracted driving?

Everyone on the road should be mindful of their surroundings, regardless of age. There are studies that suggest younger drivers account for a higher percentage of distracted driving cases, as a result of access and familiarity with electronic devices, as well as increased recklessness among younger drivers. As well, handling your phone, even when not texting, can be considered distracted driving. 

If my car is stopped at the intersection, I can use my phone or mobile devices, right?

Using a mobile device in a stopped vehicle at the intersection is still considered distracted driving. As the driver, your attention should still be focused on the road, and ready to control your vehicle once the light turns green. Even adjusting the GPS while you are waiting for the light to turn green could be considered distracted driving.

If you’ve been hurt by a careless driver who was texting and driving, call us today.

Since 2003, Matt Lalande has represented car accident victims all over Ontario. He has recovered millions for victims and families who have been hurt, or who have lost loved ones killed by distracted drivers who are texting and driving.

If you or a loved one has suffered serious injuries caused by a careless driver who is texting and driving, call us today. You can reach us no matter where you are in Ontario at 1-844-LALANDE (525-2633) or local in the Hamilton / Burlington / Niagara regions by calling us at 905-333-8888. Alternatively, you can send us an email through our website and we would be pleased to get back to you.

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