Distracted driving has overtaken impaired driving as the leading cause of vehicle fatalities in Saskatchewan -- but the former can be trickier to detect, according to a local police representative.
© Herald photo by Matt Gardner
Const. Shawn Rowden speaks at a police press conference on Monday.
SGI previously announced in January that distracted driving caused more deaths in 2012 than impaired driving, a first for the province.
Recent data from Transport Canada’s National Collision Database also indicated that fatal collisions caused by distracted drivers rose by 17 per cent across the country during the most recent five-year period (between 2006 and 2010) from 302 deaths to 352.
However, the task of determining whether a driver is distracted is far more complex than administering a breathalyzer test to a motorist suspected of impaired driving.
“In a lot of cases it’s hard to prove what was the cause, especially when it comes to distraction,” Const. Shawn Rowden said.
“The only person that actually knows was the person driving the car. But for the most part, there are ways we can find out what the reason was as far as accident reconstruction and witness statements, as well on what the person has to say in relation to the accident or the collision.”
Reflecting national trends, Rowden said that the main focus of the Prince Albert Police Service for distracted driving is cellphone use.
While every province and territory save Nunavut has enacted legislation to tackle the specific problem of cellphone use while driving, Saskatchewan currently has the biggest fines.
If police have evidence that a motorist in the province is using hand-held communication equipment while driving, the driver may receive a ticket up to $280 as well as four demerit points on their licence.
Though drivers on cellphones remain a concern for local police, Rowden noted the role of new technology, such as Bluetooth mobile phone headsets, in helping to alleviate the problem.
“I would say some people are using their Bluetooth,” he said. “However, with the older vehicles, they don’t have Bluetooth … But for most of the newer vehicles, people are using Bluetooth, which is definitely helpful for the police.”
Since the provincial laws on driving with a cellphone were modified a few years ago, the RCMP have run numerous monthly traffic safety blitzes, including some specifically targeting cellphone use.
In a lot of cases it’s hard to prove what was the cause, especially when it comes to distraction. Const. Shawn Rowden
The blitzes typically catch many motorists flouting the laws in question, yet their chief benefit may be promoting awareness among drivers.
“Certainly we do have blitzes throughout the year and I think it does help,” Rowden said. “It also makes drivers aware that the police are going to be out there enforcing particular issues and laws, especially with the cellphone use for distracted drivers.”
Though the RID (Report Impaired Driving) system was designed primarily to help members of the public report suspected impaired motorists by dialing 911, Rowden said residents can also call the service when other risk factors are involved.
“If a driver is driving distracted or not driving properly, people can certainly still call the RID line and people do call the RID line, because we do pull over people from the RID line and some people are sober when we pull them over,” he said.
“It could have been indicated for cellphone use or maybe they were distracted. It could be for any reason really.”
Residents concerned about dangerous drivers may also call police at 953-4222 or Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS.
Despite the concern over cellphone use, distracted driving is a broad category that can encompass a wide range of behaviours such as driving while eating, reaching over for something, putting on makeup, trying to take care of a child or animal and so forth.
Rowden urged any driver who runs the risk of becoming distracted behind the wheel to pull over and deal with the problem safely away from traffic.
“If you do get a phone call or if you are distracted, just pull over safely to the side of the road and just get your affairs in line and just proceed from there,” he said.
“If you could pull over and … it takes five more minutes to get to your destination, at least you get there safe … Take your time and just be aware of what’s happening around you.”