Driving while ‘intexticated’
Despite the alleged dangers of cell phone use while driving, techno-savvy people are still punching those buttons while behind the wheel.
That usage includes “intexticated” drivers, a term used to liken the practice of texting and driving to driving while intoxicated.
Regardless of potential dangers, 60 percent of those aged 16 to 19 admitted to driving while texting and 49 percent of those aged 20 to 29 said the same, according to a recent report released by Vlingo, which specializes in voice recognition technology.
Vlingo surveyed nearly 5,000 online opinion panel members aged 13 and older that lived in the United States. The survey bears a statistical accuracy of plus or minus 1.41 percent for the total sample at the 95 percent confidence level, according to the release.
Those percentages come despite legislation banning driving while texting in seven states and the District of Columbia. However, the numbers could see a chilling reality following close behind.
A study by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute suggests the risk of crash or near crash event is 23.2 times higher than non-distracted driving. The study also showed that dialing or reaching for a phone increases the risk of crashing.
“Cellphone use really promotes hands off the wheel, eyes off the road,” said Dr. Louis Hugo Francescutti, founder of the Coalition for Cellphone-Free Driving. Francescutti is also an emergency physician and graduate of the University of Alberta. The coalition was established by medical students at the U of A to raise awareness of the dangers of cell phone use.
“The only way we can do it is to have a complete cell phone ban while driving,” Francescutti said.
Some provinces have already implemented — or are in the process of implementing —cellphone bans in vehicles including B.C. and Saskatchewan as well as Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, Newfoundland and Labrador, and Nova Scotia.
The county of Strathcona, which is east of Edmonton, has also implemented a handheld cellphone ban as of Sept. 1.
However, Francescutti said he worries this may lead people to think hands-free cellphone usage is a better idea.
“They’re actually putting people in danger because they (drivers) are switching over to Bluetooth technology, when the science tells us there’s no difference,” he said.
He says the real problem lies in the conversations being carried on, though he said intextication is a word people should use more often since it’s very descriptive.
“It’s a good word — I hope it catches on,” he said. “The effects are similar if not worse.”
“I’m not sure what people are thinking when they’re doing that whole texting stuff,” said Liz Owens with the office of traffic safety in the Alberta transportation department. She said she’s seen everything from a woman applying mascara while travelling at high speeds down 50th street in Edmonton to an individual reading a book while headed full speed down Highway 2.
The province of Alberta has been debating the issue of legislation against distracted driving altogether, which could include activities such as reading, writing, performing, and personal grooming as well as cellphone usage. But what that distracted driving legislation is going to include is still up in the air.
“What it’s finally going to look like at the end of the day we don’t know, unfortunately,” Owens said.
The legislation may see itself tabled as early as the end of October.
However, Francescutti questions how spectacular that law might be.
“I suspect that, given that we have such a lax attitude around traffic safety, there probably won’t be anything earth shattering (about the law),” he said, adding Alberta was the last province to make seat belts and child restraints mandatory.
There have been questions around how to enforce the law, though he says that shouldn’t be the focus.
“That’s not the point,” he said. “You want to create it socially (so that) the norm is you’re not allowed to do it.”
The enforcement will happen, he said, but he calls the concern about enforcing the law an excuse used for not passing legislation. Focus on the message instead, he adds.
However, due to logistics, Owen says enforcement is an important part.
“Anything we implement has to be defendable in the law,” she said. “We don’t want tons of prosecutions filling up the courts.”
Currently, drivers can be fined for driving with undue care and attention, though it’s up to the officer’s discretion in many cases what undue care looks like.
“If anybody out there drives, they’ve got to realize that you can’t do it while using a cell phone,” Francescutti warns. “It’s just a matter of time before you end up in our emergency department.”