Texting: The new drunk driving

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

Josh Pennell Josh.pennell@thetelegram.com
Published on May 27, 2013
Cellphone use while driving is a serious problem.
Telegram file photo illustration

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.”