Cellular phones have been omnipresent in our lives for several years now. People use them at any time of day, while engaged in all manner of activities—including, unfortunately, driving. Despite the fact that the use of handheld cellular devices while at the wheel of a vehicle is now banned in Quebec, many people ignore the law and use their phone’s text-messaging function while driving.

A study conducted in late December 2010 and early January 2011 by the Canadian Automobile Association (CAA) revealed that texting while driving is one of the road behaviours that most irritate Canadians. Meanwhile, in July 2011, a study by the Société d’assurance automobile du Québec (SAAQ) showed that almost all respondents (99%) consider reading or writing text messages to be “fairly” or “very” dangerous. Quebecers do seem to be well informed about the issue, but are they truly aware of the risks involved?

Although no Quebec-based research into the subject has so far been conducted, several studies in the United States and Europe have demonstrated unequivocally that texting while driving is an extremely dangerous practice. One of them reveals that a truck driver who texts while at the wheel is 23 times likelier to be involved in an accident than a driver who is properly focused on the road. This alarming statistic is proof of the danger of this practice. Other sobering studies and polls lead to the conclusion that driving and texting do not mix (see the sidebar for details).

  • According to the University of North Texas Health Science Center, some 16,000 road deaths in the United States between 2001 and 2007 were attributable to texting while driving.
  • In a July 2007 poll by the American Automobile Association (AAA), 46% of teenage drivers admitted to being distracted at the wheel while texting.
  • A car being driven at 50 km/h travels 14 metres a second, so a driver who spends 4 seconds sending a text message travels 56 metres with his or her eyes off the road, according to CAA-Quebec. At 100 km/h, the car will have travelled 112 metres.
  • A 2008 study by the Transport Research Laboratory (TRL) and the Royal Automobile Club Foundation (RAC Foundation) in the United Kingdom showed that reaction times among drivers aged 17 to 24 increased by as much as 35% if they were texting. By comparison, the increase in reaction time measured for a driver with a blood alcohol level at the legal limit (0.08 in the U.K.) was 12%, according to the same study.
  •  Tests conducted by CAA-Quebec in spring and summer 2008 revealed that the stopping distance for a vehicle travelling at 50 km/h is 11.8 metres. At 70 km/h, that distance increases to 25.6 metres, and at 90 km/h, it is 39.3 metres. Imagine the consequences on stopping distance of a distraction like texting, which adds between 3 and 4 seconds to a driver’s reaction time.
  • In March 2006, the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute found that in 8 out of 10 road accidents, some source of distraction occurs in the 3 seconds before the crash.

CAA-Quebec and Michael Schumacher team up against texting while driving

On June 9, 2011, CAA-Quebec, the CAA, the Fédération internationale de l’automobile (FIA) and La Ronde (Montreal) joined forces to raise public awareness of the risks of texting while driving. The event marked the Canadian launch of the United Nations Decade of Action for Road Safety. For the occasion, Formula One race car drivers Michael Schumacher and Felipe Massa climbed into the CAA-Quebec driving simulator to show that even for the world’s best drivers, texting while at the wheel is risky business.

A few minutes after entering the simulator, Schumacher had an “accident” while texting.

Massa, meanwhile, committed three traffic violations while using a cellular device.

Before a crowd of journalists, neither driver needed persuading to warn the public of the risks related to texting while driving.

View the event

View our video: Driving + texting = Danger!

CAA-Quebec stand at the F1 Grand Prix in Montreal

At the most recent Formula One Canadian Grand Prix, members of the public could try out the CAA-Quebec driving simulator and see for themselves the effects of texting while driving in a safe environment.
Race fans were invited to get behind the wheel of the simulator and text at the same time. Afterward, many admitted that they now understood the importance of always keeping both eyes on the road while driving.
In conclusion…

Many motorists remain under the impression that driving is an activity they can engage in while also paying attention to other tasks. This is a false impression. Driving is a demanding activity requiring heightened concentration—this is the only way of ensuring that one is constantly aware of road obstacles and what other drivers are doing.

What if your phone rings while you’re driving? Don’t answer it. Let your voice mail answer for you; it’s infinitely more safe! Just one second’s distraction can shatter many lives, including yours. If you must take the call, make sure you pull off the road and stop in a safe location.