For as long as cars have been on the road, drivers have faced distractions, often with serious, even deadly, consequences. With the advent of new technologies placing palm-sized phones in almost everyone’s pocket – as well as in their cars – drivers are facing more distractions behind the wheel than ever.
The on-the-road risks associated with a surge in cellphone use over the last decade were behind the territory’s decision to prohibit drivers from using restricted hand-held electronic devices in 2012.
That legislation was followed by changes to the Motor Vehicle Act in 2016.
In a bid to combat the “major issue” of distracted driving, the revamped road rules meant motorists using, holding or even touching a restricted device could be fined, according to the GNWT’s website. The legislation also introduced licence suspensions of up to 30 days for a person’s fourth distracted driving offence in a two-year span.
Distracted driving can range from talking on a cellphone to eating food or even listening to the radio too loud. Fatigued driving is also a form of distracted driving.
So, are the relatively new laws putting a dent in distracted driving?
In Yellowknife, according to figures provided by RCMP, distracted driving violations have dropped significantly in recent years.
Last year, seven tickets were issued to city drivers for using a restricted electronic device while behind the wheel – more than a 50 per cent drop from the 16 violations recorded in 2017.
So far, the RCMP have handed out no tickets for the same distracted driving offence in 2019.
The downward trend is reflected in recent statistics from the city’s Municipal Enforcement Division (MED), too.
Under the Highway Traffic Bylaw, MED recorded three “driving using electronic device” violations in January. During the same month last year, 15 offences were recorded by MED.
The primary factor behind the drop in distracted driving offences, according to RCMP spokesperson Marie York-Condon, is difficult to pinpoint, but the trend could be the result of increased awareness and continued efforts to curb the dangerous practice.
“One could surmise that the reduction of more than 50 per cent in tickets written in Yellowknife in 2018, as compared to 2017, could be attributed to the changes in legislation as well as the messaging by partner agencies of the dangers of distracted driving,” wrote York-Condon in an email.
York-Condon stated Mounties try to take any opportunity they can to educate residents on the dangers of distracted driving – from handing out almost 2,000 informative pamphlets in the last 18 months to giving verbal roadside warnings.
Local efforts from the RCMP coincide annually with the force’s national Road Safety Week.
“RCMP use this annual opportunity to increase visibility,” and to “educate people on the dangers and changes in legislation,” stated York-Condon.
By 2016, four years after stricter distracted driving laws were introduced in NWT, around 1,200 drivers had been convicted of distracted driving, according to the GNWT’s website.
Tips to stay focused on the road
- Plan your route before getting behind the wheel: If you are using a GPS device to get to your destination, make sure the audible directions are at a volume you can hear, so you don’t have to keep looking at the device.
- Put the phone down: Place your cellphone out of reach to avoid temptation.
- Pay attention to volume of music: Make sure your in-car tunes don’t drown out important audible alarms including sirens and tire screeches.
- Personal grooming is a no-no: Leave the shaving and makeup application for the comfort of your own home. On-the-go grooming distracts drivers and presents a hosts of on-the-road risks.