Within the first seven weeks of 2012, nine people in Ontario have been killed on the roads due to distracted driving (CBC, 2012). Distracted driving has been the number one killer on Ontario roads in 2012 to date, accounting for more deaths than drunk driving and speeding collision combine (CBC, 2012). The Ontario Regulation 366/09 under the Highway Traffic Act, a restriction on display screens and hand-held devices, has been enforced in Ontario since February 1, 2010. This law was put in place to counter distracted driving in Ontario and to help stop the rising number of distracted driving auto collisions and reduce the risk of driving on Ontario roads (Bradley, 2009). This Highway Traffic Act needs to be enforced with greater consistency and frequency, as the consequences are too costly to overlook.
There are many forms of distracted driving including eating while driving, changing the radio dial while driving, or fidgeting with your GPS. This essay argues that social media is a distraction tool that has many negative side effects while driving. It examines recent research, which supports the conclusion that the use of social media tools while driving is as dangerous as drunk driving. This essay will also outline some examples of dangerous driving behaviours that are the result of using social media tools.
It is a fact that people between the ages 16 and 24 are the highest users of social media. It has also been proven that texting is a dangerous task to perform while driving as drivers that take their eyes of the road for more than two seconds are four times more likely to be involved in a collision (J.K. Caird, 2008). A similar study shows that 81.5% of undergraduate students have texted while driving and understand that they endanger themselves and all others using the road when they use social media while driving (Chris S. Dula, 2011).
This is where stronger enforcement can play a role in preventing distracted driving collisions. Drivers in Ontario that show little regard for the safety of themselves and others on the road, including their own passengers, should be charged the full $155 fine with no exceptions. Regulation 366/09 should also include a repeat offender clause that would have the offender’s license suspended for 30 days. Participants said strict laws and monetary penalties would reduce their texting while driving (Chris S. Dula, 2011). The unsettling news is these drivers already exhibit dangerous driving behaviours combined while using social media as the survey also revealed that drivers who used social media were going at least 10 mph over the posted speed limit (Chris S. Dula, 2011).
In North Carolina, lawmakers established the graduated license program in attempt to instill safe driving habits at the beginning of every new driver’s career. Unfortunately, the study out of North Carolina suggested that implementing a temporary cellphone restriction on drivers has little to no effect on youth (R.D. Foss, 2009). Students at a high school were observed 2 months before the new law was introduced and documented at 11% usage of cellphones while driving. Even after the law was enacted and enforced, student usage of cellphones while driving remained at 11%. However, five months after the law was enacted students verbally reported that their cell phone usage had decreased during driving (R.D. Foss, 2009). This idea of limiting cellphone use during the early stage of anyone’s driving career should instill good habits into the driver and prevent them from being distracted behind the wheel. This idea needs to be implemented across more areas and documented to greater detail to determine the effectiveness of this restriction. The survey also mentioned that more research is required to determine the lasting effects of this type of law.
In Australia, a study asked drivers about their distracting behaviours while operating a motor vehicle and 60% of participants said they used a cellphone while driving (K. L. Young, 2010). This study also found that young drivers were significantly more likely to engage in distracting activities more than any other age group (K. L. Young, 2010). 84% of the participants agreed that they are less safe drivers while engaged in distracting activities (K. L. Young, 2010), which supports the previous notion that this demographic is aware of their unsafe driving habits. The participants also stated that it was unlikely that a driver would be caught using a cellphone (K. L. Young, 2010). Overall, the majority of participants said they would continue to use their cellphones while driving even though they are completely aware of the dangers and understand that cellphone use while driving is illegal.
A common theme that sticks out in the studies conducted by P. Malikhao 2011, R.D. Foss 2009, and K. L. Young 2010, is the complete disregard from youth regarding the dangers of using social media tools while driving and their resulting consequences. Youth appear to not care about their own safety while driving as they repeatedly use social tools while driving. These studies highlight the need for the government to enforce this law with greater frequency and more consistency to protect all drivers on the roads from reckless drivers. If drivers cannot control their use of social media while driving, they do not deserve a license to operate a motor vehicle.
Next, let us look at the consequences of distracted driving. In 2007, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette printed an article on the effects of using a cellphone while driving. This article concluded that talking on a cellphone would cause an accident four times more often than not talking on a cellphone (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 2007). The article also concluded that cellphone use is the second most likely distraction to cause an accident (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 2007). It should be no surprise that distracted driving due to social media is a dangerous habit. Other sources, including CBC News (2012), have reported similar statistics of distracted driving causing death at an alarmingly high rate.
Across Canada and the United States, distracted driving laws are being enacted and enforced to reduce distracted driving. Many of these laws include the restriction of hand-held devices and encouraging the use of hands-free devices. The Ontario distracted driving law includes this hands-free clause to allow its motorist to use their cellphones to call or text while driving. However, in 2009, the journal of safety research concluded that hands-free cellphone use is not a safe practice (Y. Ishigami, 2009). This type of cellphone use has the same dangers as hand-held cellphone use (Y. Ishigami, 2009). It was surprising to discover that drivers who were abiding by the local laws and used a hands-free device were documented as not showing the same concern and caution for the road compared to when drivers were physically holding the cellphone (Y. Ishigami, 2009). This research also concluded that drivers using a cellphone have a 38% higher risk of being in an accident over drivers who do not use a cellphone while driving (Y. Ishigami, 2009). These findings should lead the government to ban the use of cellphones while driving and not limit the use to a hands-free method.
In 2010, there was an estimated 285-million cellphone connections in the United States (Chris S. Dula, 2011). In 2002, an estimated 60% of drivers used cellphones while driving (Chris S. Dula, 2011) and this number has surely risen over the last 10 years. The focus of the study was to determine the amount of distraction from a phone call and it was concluded that the greater the emotional level of a conversation, the greater the amount of distraction from driving (Chris S. Dula, 2011). This study was not concerned with the differentiating the effects of hand-held versus hands-free devices, but rather the effects of the phone conversation itself. The study showed that any level of emotional stimulation can cause a distraction and thus supports the notion that drivers should not be using any form of cellphone communication while driving.
In 2006, D.L. Strayer, F.A. Drews, and D.J. Crouch, collaborated on a study comparing drunk drivers to drivers that use cellphones while driving. The study included 40 adults, each with a valid driver’s license, who were asked to operate a computer simulated vehicle in a controlled environment while distracted with either a cellphone or alcohol. Cellphone impaired drivers followed the vehicle in front of them at a further distance than the baseline but got into more accidents than the drunk drivers doing the same simulation (D.L. Strayer, 2006). The study also concluded that hands-free device legislations are not likely to eliminate the risks associated while driving and using a cellphone (D.L. Strayer, 2006). This study has been a strong source for governments to implement a distracted driver’s law in their country. The statistics from this study are overwhelming in proving that social media and cellphone use while driving is amongst the most dangerous driving habits.
The best way to reduce the risk of social media killing on roads is to create a universal law banning the use of social media while operating a motor vehicle. Drivers need to be educated on the dangers of using social media tools while driving through the implementation of laws and from hearing personal stories of people who have been affected by these deadly collisions.
In conclusion, social media tools should not be used at any point while operating a motor vehicle, as the consequences are deadly. Unfortunately, distracted driving is on the rise and has been reported as more deadly than drunk driving and speeding deaths combined (CBC, 2012). Governments need to take action now and make changes to the existing distracted driving laws before social media claims more lives. Ultimately, the real control factor is the driver choosing to not use social media tools while operating their vehicle. This unsafe habit can be changed with stronger enforcement.
Bradley, J. (2009, September 29). Highway Traffic Act – Ontario Legislation 366/09. Retrieved March 20, 2012, from E-Laws: http://www.e-laws.gov.on.ca/html/source/…/elaws_src_regs_r09366_e.htm
CBC. (2012, March 1). Distracted driving is the leading cause of road deaths. Retrieved March 20, 2012, from CBC News: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/story/2012/03/01/toronto-distracted-driving.html
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