Cell phone industry attempts driver education

Cell phones and driving. Consider this scene witnessed in Winnipeg one recent rush hour: A driver in the passing lane holds a cell phone between shoulder and ear while writing on a clip board propped against the steering wheel.

Just about every driver can tell a similar story of a distracted driver. A senior person in the organization representing the cell phone industry doesn’t disagree. Roger Poirier says cell phones are just one of many distractions in vehicles.

Driver distraction is a cause of a great deal of all vehicle collisions. We don’t have the actual number, but in the U.S. they quote 50 per cent of all accidents involve driver distraction. Unfortunately, the sources of distraction are increasing,” says Poirier, Vice President of the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association.

This spring, the CWTA, together with the Canada Safety Council, will launch a video to be used in driver training to educate people about the dangers of distractions. The program is being developed with input from a number of national and regional safety organizations. These include the Insurance Bureau of Canada, the Ministry of Transportation in Ontario and in Alberta, and Yng Drivers of Canada. Poirier says there are also plans for public service announcements.

Cell phone pointers
The CWTA stresses the following points for avoiding driver distraction while using a cell phone:

  • Keep your hands on the wheel and your eyes on the road.
  • Use a hands-free device so you can keep both hands on the wheel.
  • Dial only when stopped or have a passenger dial for you.
  • Don’t have stressful or emotional conversations that may divert your attention from the road.
  • Program frequently called numbers into your phone’s speed dialer for one-touch dialing.
  • Never take notes while driving. Pull off the road if you need to write something down.
  • Let voice mail pick up your calls when it’s inconvenient or unsafe to answer the phone.

Accident prospects
How do cell phones rank in the list of distractions drivers face? The Transportation Safety Lab at the University of Montreal recently questioned 36,000 drivers about their driving habits and accidents over two years.

  • A third of the male drivers and a half of the women questioned said cell phone use interfered significantly with their driving.
  • Only three per cent felt talking with passengers or listening to the radio, tapes or CD’s interfered with driving.
The sample included almost 13,000 drivers who use cell phones. Researchers concluded:
  • Cell phone users have a 38 per cent higher accident risk.

Education key
Poirier says the wireless organization welcomes the driver distraction research because it raises awareness about the need for safe driving practices. 

“Driving while using a cell phone we believe is similar to other distractions that occur in cars. And simply having laws that ban them is not getting to the root of the problem. It’s not clear to us that people will obey these laws. If the government says it feels it must ban cell phones in cars, we’re not going to oppose that, but we think a better approach is to put efforts into education and that’s what we’re doing,” he says.

The CWTA also states that cell phones in cars play a useful role: “In Canada alone, nearly three million calls per year are made to 911 or emergency numbers using a wireless phone”. These ‘Wireless Samaritans’ report crimes, emergencies, accidents and drunk drivers.”