Texting: The new drunk driving

Josh Pennell
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Cellphone use behind the wheel is as bad as being impaired: studies

RNC Staff Sgt. Sean Ennis says cellphone use while driving is a problem with more than just young drivers. — Photo illustration by Andrew Robinson/The Telegram

RNC Staff Sgt. Sean Ennis says the prevalence of cellphone use while driving is escalating, and new studies show just how hazardous the act can be.

“The studies that are being released now are telling us that a person texting in a car is just as big a hazard as somebody who’s impaired,” he says.

Making this issue worse is that almost everybody has a cellphone these days, and Ennis says most people seem to think that every text or call that comes in is the most important piece of news they’re ever going to get.

It’s not a problem that’s isolated to young drivers. Recently, Ennis pulled over a man who went through an amber light while talking on his cellphone.

He had his wife in the passenger seat and a baby in the back. The risks people are taking are real, says Ennis.

“All because of a phone call.”

And the statistics show that those phone calls and texts carry a heaver risk than a possible ticket. Ennis says studies attribute about one Canadian death per day due to cellphone use while driving.

“It appears people are confusing their cars with mobile telephone booths,” says Ennis.

And those phones aren’t just capable of calls and texts. One of the things the RNC is coming across now is people trying to take video of themselves with their phones while they drive.

Ennis says it’s habit-forming, like other poor driving practices. Because people get away with it so many times without getting a ticket or causing an accident, they think they’re never going to.

Despite that some people still do it, the vast majority of people accept now that driving while impaired is ludicrous, Ennis adds. Not so with cellphone use, despite that the studies are finding it to be comparable in risk.

The key to changing the behaviour is education through conversation, he says, something that he believes people haven’t been doing a great job of up to this point.  


“We’re not gonna give our 17- or 18 -year-old daughter or son the keys to the car and a bottle of rum or a dozen beer. We wouldn’t do that, but we’re giving them the keys to the car and we give them a cellphone but we don’t give them the headset to go with it or give them the (proper) advice.”

Hands-free devices might not be the total answer either, he adds, but they’re a much better alternative.

The cause of some accidents is inconclusive, according to Ennis. The investigative crews will always wonder how somebody didn’t see the opposing car ahead of them turning left or see the red light. Ennis is wondering more and more how often cellphone use could be a factor in these unexplained incidents.

“I don’t think there’s anybody out in the community who hasn’t seen a car in front of them who they come to the very quick conclusion, that person has to be on their cellphone because they’re all over the road.”

With the amount of traffic on the highways and all the other distractions, people are at the limit of their capabilities, he says.

“We’re going to have a tragedy on our highways because of distracted drivers. The net result is going to be people dying.”




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Recent comments

  • mmullaley
    June 14, 2013 - 08:07

    They are NOT "just as big a hazard" ...they are worse. 3 times in the last year I had to avoid a head on while "young girls" crossed into my lane texting. A driver drinking would have to be some drunk to have his head down heading down the road....I'd rather meet a fella with a couple of beer in him anyday. EVERY DAY people are wandering all over the bleeping roads on their phones. For the record: speeders generally are paying attention and are less of a hazard...INATTENTION KILLS. So set the traps up in unmarked to nail the ones on the phones instead of the people out there hustling to make a living...too easy.

  • Jane
    May 31, 2013 - 10:55

    The RNC are a joke. Here they are on their high horse acting as though they're actually concerned about the danger of people texting while driving yet they do NOTHING about it. A few weeks ago I witnessed a guy driving up Columbus Drive, weaving all over the road, with a cell phone up in front of his face - he actually had it held over the wheel. I called 911 because it was an accident waiting to happen and equal to an impaired driver as far as I was concerned. When I spoke to a police officer and told him the situation he got very upset with me and told me I should not have called 911 because it was "not a life or death situation". I told him it could very well be! He then hung up on me. Wouldn't let me give him the driver's license plate number or location. So here they are now saying that texting is the "new drunk driving" and they have have these signs on the TCH that say "Report Impaired Drivers. Call 911", yet they will do nothing if you call. All talk no action.

    • George
      May 31, 2013 - 12:51

      Right on!

  • Me
    May 29, 2013 - 18:17

    I completely agree more. I even tested this for my science fair winning a silver medal and the psycology award.

  • Judith Devine
    May 28, 2013 - 12:40

    I was so glad to read the article in which Staff Sergeant Sean Ennis articulated the very, very serious concerns around the use of cell phones and texting while driving. In my opinion, since the law was tabled banning this, the practice has escalated to a higher level. Yesterday, I was driving on the Outer Ring Road at 100 km ,and in the passing lane, a car overtook my vehicle and I could plainly see the phone in his hand and him trying to text and drive at a speed greater than 100 km per hour. Sergeant Ennis's comments reflect what our society has morphed into; that being that we all think that phone call or text is so important that we are willing to risk the precious lives of others and ourselves to answer a call. I thought I'd seen it all until one day recently, I observed a back hoe operator on his cell phone while on the highway. Looking at the comments this article received, this is obviously a very serious problem that must be resolved somehow before innocent lives are lost because of a matter that could wait until later to be answered. That text will remain on your phone - it isn't going anywhere. People take heed - the life you take could be your own.

  • Denise
    May 27, 2013 - 12:07

    I while ago I was driving on Higgins Line toward the University. In the lane to my right was a man in his mid 30s driving a large truck and texting while driving toward what is arguably the most dangerous intersection in St. John's, Higgins Line and Prince Philip. I pulled into the Arts and Culture Center and called the police with his make, model and plate number and direction he was travelling. I reported the driver and was told by the officer that if I wanted to file a complaint I would have to stop by the police station to file a formal complaint. I asked if he was going to send an officer to check out the guy and he said not, it wasn't a priority. So I said, "So you're going to wait until he gets into an accident and kills someone?" He said, "Whatever." Then he had the nerve to ask my name. So, while I know Staff Sgt, Ennis and I know he is a serious and dedicated officer, the RNC as a whole is not taking this problem seriously, and until they do, why should anyone else!

    • Daren
      May 27, 2013 - 12:32

      This is a easy problem to fix. Pass a law that would require vendors to disable cellphone data/text while travelling 5MPH+. If we can have bicycle helmet legislation, why not this? I am not always for Government legislating our lives to death, but the cell phone thing while driving is completely out of control.

  • david
    May 27, 2013 - 11:16

    Ummmm...no. Texting can be called "the new drunk driving" in any place where drunk driving has been eradicated or at least significantly reduced......here, texting is just an add-on. In Newfoundland, drunk driving will always be the 'new' drunk driving.

  • Calvin
    May 27, 2013 - 11:14

    Trying to enforce this is a waste of time, money and resources. There were well over 2000 tickets given out over the May 2-4 long weekend, 8 were for cell phone use. If law enforcement can't catch more than that when they are out in droves trying to nab people for driving infractions, then there is little hope of them cutting down on guilty parties all year round. RNC and RCMP would have to hire officers who just drive around handing out tickets, which they won't. People aren't going to listen anyway. There are an appalling amount of people who still drink and drive in Newfoundland, do you think the general populace gives a %^* about cell phone use? There is no quick fix here, people are going to contine to text while driving no matter what law enforcement does. The only thing you can do is worry about your driving and hope one of these morons doesn't pile into you head on.

  • jim
    May 27, 2013 - 10:49

    There has been a school bus with kids on it and a cop car rear ended in the past month... gee, think there is an issue? I don't want to hear what the problem is from the RNC or this crap about education - EVERYONE knows it is dangerous - everyone. I want to know what the RNC is going to do about it. Imagine the extra money if ev1 on a cell phone got a $300 ticket?? Stop talking, RNC and do something to fix or at least deter it. Right now - you guys are a joke.

  • willie
    May 27, 2013 - 09:56

    it would be great if these phones didn't work in cars.there would be a lot less traffic AND MUCH SAFER ON OUR ROADS and less accidents

  • Whaddaya At
    May 27, 2013 - 09:37

    Cellphone use while driving is increasing every day and enforcement of the ban is only a joke. Double or triple the fine so it hits offending drivers where it hurts and publish their names in the paper. That's not rocket science now, is it ?. Oh, wait, we're talking Gov't. here. Things have to get to the crisis stage first, many more people have to be injured or killed before Gov't. gets off its lazy arse and puts some real teeth in the legislation.

  • undisclosed
    May 27, 2013 - 09:19

    My son actually had a call from BELL MOBILITY WHILE DRIVING! Told the person calling that he was driving and to please call back in 20 mins...and the mobility employee KEPT HIM ON THE PHONE!!!!!!!!! Thank God he had blue tooth in his car. Yes, I most certainly did call and complain to the higher ups.

  • Voyager
    May 27, 2013 - 09:09

    It is appalling the lack of enforcement when it comes to cell phone use, not using indicators and running red lights. This is very dangerous place to drive and getting worst.

    • tom
      May 27, 2013 - 10:42

      Agree 100%. And you can drive from one end of the city to the other and not even see a cop car. There is zero enforcement and until there is, ppl will keep on texting. They did a blitz last year and gave out 100's of tickets for driving offences, which should indicate a problem, but haven't done one since. Makes a lot of sense doesn't it??

  • Rocketman
    May 27, 2013 - 09:00

    Kevin, thats a great idea, but just imagine the congestion of vehicles that the police would pull over. Geez, I really don"t think the confusion of drivers getting tickets would be worth the risk during rush hour. I went through an intersection just the other day behind a pickup with 2 people aboard, neither wearing a seat belt. their was a marked patrol car waiting to make a right turn, he never as much turned an eye to this infraction. The RNC has got to have zero tolerance with the law or they lose credibility.

  • Jennifer
    May 27, 2013 - 08:56

    While on the way from St. John's yesterday to CBS we met at least 10 drivers on cell phones and all were male drivers and that is only the ones we saw. How many did we not see , I wonder. In actual fact one man almost hit us when he was coming from a by road off Fowlers Rd ...my sister was driving and she rang up her fist at him. We do need more police patrol.

  • MRD
    May 27, 2013 - 08:12

    MRD should randomly check on drivers after they pass their test. Speed, go through a stop sign or use a cell phone and you lose your license for a year. Warn the new drivers and when you catch a few, which shouldn't take long, put it in the media. Driving is not a right, it is a privilege.

  • Bud
    May 27, 2013 - 08:10

    It occurs to me that citizens should have a phone number in which to haul in and call to report the man/woman behind you/ beside you who is on their phone. If it's considered as "bad as" drinking and driving then we should start reporting it. I have sat at a red light and watched a woman behind me putting on mascara/drinking coffee and talking on the cell phone all at the same time. I don't have to worry about myself as a driver- I have to worry about meeting this kind of idiot.

  • Undisclosed
    May 27, 2013 - 07:58

    It's as simple as this: if you are either reading a text or typing a text while driving, your eyes are not on the road ahead of you. If you watch the new Tim McGraw video 'Highway Don't Care' you'll see a 'good' example of a possible outcome of cell phone distraction while driving.

  • Phile
    May 27, 2013 - 07:52

    Mabye the police should start enforcing the law instead of talking about it. There are people driving while on their phonees everywhere. Or better yet, texting with their phone in their lap so they won't be seen.

  • Sinned
    May 27, 2013 - 07:44

    I have sinned. I frequently check emails when I am stopped at a Red Light. It doesn't seem to be risky behaviour and I would never think of checking while moving in traffic.

    • Email
      May 27, 2013 - 08:15

      Your email will be there when you get home. Why not just turn off the phone when driving?

  • Madonna K.
    May 27, 2013 - 06:48

    I totally agree with Sgt. Ennis. This is a very dangerous practice and is happening everywhere. Another is using a GPS while driving...I know of so many people who have been in accidents because of this. Cell phones are great but they have their place...and it's not while driving!

    • Kevin
      May 27, 2013 - 08:02

      I walk home Elizabeth Ave. most afternoons, usually between 4:30 and 5:00. In one day I counted 19 people using cell phones, with 11 of those texting or dialing a number. Their eyes were locked on their phones and not on the road. I was only counting the drivers in the lane on the side I was walking on. This is one of the busiest streets in the city at one of its busiest times. A little creative enforcement by the RNC may be needed. Have one officer on foot spot the phone users and one a short distance away flag the driver down for their ticket.

    • tom
      May 27, 2013 - 10:44

      Exactly, Kevin. But that may make too much sense. I have seen ppl go through RED lights and zip through stop signs and a cop car right there which does not even pull them over. RNC is a part of the problem right now, not the solution.