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71% of Young Canadian Drivers Admit to Texting While Behind the Wheel

Oct. 19, 2020
4 mins
A distracted driver sits behind the wheel of a car and looks down at his phone

It’s National Teen Driver Safety Week in Canada. The annual safe-driving campaign – which runs from October 18 to 24, 2020 – aims to encourage young drivers to adhere to safe driving best practices. The campaign also strives to educate young drivers about the risks collisions and other traffic convictions can have on them, and in turn, their car insurance rates.

Road crashes are the leading cause of death among teenagers in the country, according to Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) Canada. Young people have the highest rates of traffic death and injury per capita among all age groups, with motor vehicle crashes being the leading cause of death among 16- to 25-year-olds. While there are many reasons for that grim statistic, including speeding and alcohol- or drug-impaired driving, aggressive and distracted driving are also significant factors.

According to RATESDOTCA’s data*, over half (56%) of young Canadians between the ages 18-24 report that they are back on the road this fall, with 73% of them driving regularly. As drivers share the road, it is important to note some of the distracted driving behaviours Canadians of all ages are undertaking behind the wheel.

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More young drivers are taking chances behind the wheel

RATESDOTCA’S second annual distracted driving survey** finds 71% of Canadian drivers between 18 and 24 years old admit they are likely to check messages on their phone when they are stopped at a traffic light -- a 22% increase from 2019. That compares to 48% of drivers over the age of 24 who said they’re likely to check messages while at a stop light, an 8% increase from 2019.

Among the survey’s other findings:

  • 92% of 18- to 24-year-olds have a mobile device with them behind the wheel, the same amount who admitted to having a device with them in the car one year ago.
  • 50% admit to checking messages while the vehicle is in motion, a 13% increase from one year ago.
  • 54% admit to making a phone call while driving (up from 50% in 2019).
  • 18% say they have watched a video while driving (14% increase from last year).

When respondents of any age group were asked if, as passengers, they have asked someone to stop using their mobile device while driving, 42% said ‘never’. Another 20% said they have ‘once’, 12% said ‘twice’, and 6% said ‘three times’. Concerningly, 20% said they had done so on more than three occasions.

What is distracted driving and what are the penalties?

Distracted driving is the act of driving while engaging in other activities that divert the driver's attention away from the road. It is dangerous, and compromises the safety of the driver, passengers, pedestrians, and people in other vehicles. Examples of distracted driving include texting, making phone calls, or playing with the in-vehicle infotainment system instead of fully concentrating on driving.

In Ontario, distracted driving laws apply to the use of all handheld communication or entertainment devices while behind the wheel, including when you are stopped in traffic or at a red light. The laws are similar in Alberta.

Though 92% of the survey’s respondents said they are ‘very’ or ‘somewhat’ aware of the ramifications a distracted driving conviction and the subsequent penalties are (mirroring the same result from 2019), the problem persists, or in some instances, appears to be worsening.

The penalties for a distracted driving conviction are expensive. They are particularly harsh in Ontario, where drivers face fines up to $1,000, are hit with three demerit points, and a three-day licence suspension for a first infraction. The penalties increase with repeat infractions. In other provinces, like Alberta, the penalty for a first-time distracted driving offence is a $300 fine and three demerit points.

The penalties for novice drivers are also severe. For example, in Ontario, young drivers with G1, G2, M1, or M2 licences convicted of distracted driving will face the same fines, but instead of demerit points, they will face longer suspension times: a 30-day suspension for a first conviction and a 90-day suspension for a second conviction. If convicted a third time, your licence will be cancelled, and you will be removed from the Graduated Licensing System.

Staying focused equals staying safe: take these safe driving tips to heart

There are many factors that determine what your car insurance premium will be, including how old you are. Drivers below the age of 25 tend to pay higher insurance rates. But with age and experience – and a clean driving record free of traffic convictions and collisions – your premium may decrease. In other words, the better your driving record, the lower your rate will be.

Also noteworthy, a distracted driving conviction will increase your car insurance by 15% to 25%. Furthermore, an insurer may deny you coverage if you have such a conviction on your driving record, and a conviction remains on your driving record for three years.

Here are a few tips to avoid distractions whenever you slide into the driver’s seat:

  • Stay focused on driving. Keep your hands on the wheel and your eyes on the road. Watch out for pedestrians, cyclists, other motorists, and don’t allow your mind to wander.
  • Eat before you drive. If you can, avoid eating while driving by having a meal or a snack before or after your trip, or make time to stop somewhere safe and eat.
  • Tune out the electronics. Unless it’s an emergency, do not use your mobile phone to make calls. Mute your phone and put it away. Never exchange texts, read emails, watch videos, play video games or surf the internet while driving.
  • Get comfortable first. Whatever adjustments you need to make in your vehicle – set your GPS, adjust mirrors and your seat, choose a radio station to listen to, store any loose objects that may be rolling around on the floor – do it before you shift your vehicle into drive.
  • Get off the road before using your device. If you need to use your phone, pull over to a safe spot, park, and then use it.

Lastly, whether you have a distracted driving conviction on your record or not, take a few minutes to compare car insurance policies and premiums to find the best rate you can find from a broad range of insurers.

About the surveys

*A digital survey of 2,500 Canadians aged 18 years or older was conducted using Google Survey from September 25 to October 4, 2020.

** The second annual distracted driving survey was conducted by Forum Research between February 3 to February 8, 2020 and polled 1,173 respondents across Canada.

Liam Lahey

Liam Lahey is a versatile marketer with experience as a staff and freelance writer for many business and technology publications and newspapers. He previously worked as the editor and media spokesperson for RATESDOTCA, handling home, auto, and travel insurance topics.

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