Distracted Driving Statistics - What to Believe?

Stop Distracted DrivingI received an interesting fact sheet from the Traffic Injury Research Foundation (TIRF) this week. It looks at distracted driving related fatal collisions in Canada from 2000 to 2015. In some Canadian provinces this type of fatality has surpassed the total caused by alcohol impaired driving. However, that's not the part of the document that made me pause.

Distracted driving to many means the manual use of a cell phone while operating a motor vehicle. In reality, distractions include being engaged with entertainment or communication devices, engaging with passengers in the vehicle, or eating, smoking or personal grooming while driving, among other examples. Doing anything that takes the driver's attention from the driving task could be considered as distracting.

This caveat in the preface to the report was what really captured my attention:

It should also be noted that in some collision report forms, investigating officers may code the driver condition as ‘distracted, inattentive,’ meaning there was a general lack of attention exhibited by the driver but there was no specific source of distraction identified.

To me, distracted and inattentive are two different things. Lumping them both together does not paint a true picture of the problem.

Collision data gathering can be a complicated task. In order to be reliable, it must be done promptly, carefully and thoroughly by investigators who gather as much data as possible, considered for accuracy and then reported in a consistent manner.

That was on the minds of the people who produced the TIRF report:

Fatality data from British Columbia from 2011 to 2015 were not available at the time that this fact sheet was prepared. As a result, Canadian data presented have been re-calculated to exclude this jurisdiction and make equitable comparisons.

This politely worded statement could mean many things. TIRF did not give adequate time between the request for data and the writing of the report. It takes more than 3 years for B.C. bean counters to determine a result. B.C. refused to share the data with TIRF. Worst of all, maybe B.C. really has no idea what that data is.

Our government chose to discontinue the requirement to report a collision to the police in July of 2008. Currently, ICBC claims personnel are the only ones in a position to gather the majority of collision data.

If we can't share data with TIRF, can we be sure that what we are being told about the impact of distracted driving is true?

No doubt it is taking place as the police issued about 43,000 tickets for using electronic devices while driving last year and we know that the consequences of doing so can be terrible, but how many of the 960 collisions that happen each day in B.C. can be blamed on driver distraction?


Submitted by E-Mail

You’ve hit the nail on the head.  It’s the basic garbage in garbage out.

I’ve said for a long time that “distracted driving” as touted by the media, via (mostly) ICBC, isn’t just the use of a cell phone.  All sorts of acts can distract a driver.  I’d venture a guess that in most collisions if both drivers were paying complete attention, most collisions could be avoided, in fact in many cases by the driver that wasn’t deemed to be at fault.

A certain irony is that the idiot that is driving like a complete fool, and has a collision, is probably the one most likely not to be driving distracted.  Doing a lot of other things but distracted isn’t one of them.

Much like speeding was the route of all evil a number of years ago, distracted driving is now to blame for everything, and is defined by the general public as cell phone use.

Back when speed was the villain I posed the question :  How come police vehicles, which frequently exceed the speed limit, and many times without emergency equipment on, aren’t in a phenomenal number of collisions ?   The answer I got was “well they are highly trained”.  My reply was : “So then it isn’t speeding that is causing collisions, it’s lack of training”.

Now we are flooded with the huge number of collisions caused by “distracted driving”.   I don’t disagree with that being the cause, BUT, if an action causes a problem it is incumbent on the stat provider to define “distracted driving”.

As you said in your article, in BC police don’t routinely investigate collisions, unless they are severe or other extenuating circumstances.  Now we have stats created by who knows who.

In Vancouver in 1985 the VPD re-instated an Accident Investigation Squad (yes it was called “accident”)  For about 10 years prior to that VPD stopped attending minor “accidents”, all because one night on the way home, one of our Superintendents was involved in a collision in New West and when he called for the police he was informed that they didn’t attend minor “accidents”, just exchange info and go to ICBC.  Very soon after that VPD didn’t attend minor collisions either.

In “Acc I” we did all the serious stuff (I even did two fatal collisions in one night), but then we filled in our time roaring around doing minor collision investigations.  I was frustrated with the hoops VPD members had to go through to investigate these minor (back then) MVAs.  If we attended, no matter if there were no serious charges, we had to complete a RTCC (Report to Crown Counsel), a MV104 and a diagram (plus of course, a ticket).

I went to the manager of Traffic Records and asked why all the paper work for, in many cases a simple minor collision.  I asked why, if I attended a collision, I couldn’t just write a ticket and complete the MV104.  If the violation was disputed I could be notified and I could complete a brief RTCC if a civilian witness needed to be called.  We could increase the number of investigations we could do.  If we didn’t attend the motorist(s) would just reported the collision.  Much better if we attended.

Believe it or not, the answer I got was because stats and coding were miss reported by police members that Traffic Records lobbied for police management to require the above reports for all attended “accidents” so Traffic Records could accurately correct and record stats for each collision.

When a citizen reported a collision at the counter the clerk could ask questions and clear up any discrepancies for the stats, but if the police just reported the collision via an MV104 and a ticket (presumably) Traffic Records could be left in the dark.

The example I was given was,  “We get a collision report were a legally parked vehicle was struck and the location is “Broadway & Cambie”, Broadway and & Cambie is an intersection, one can’t be legally parked in an intersection, so the location must have been on Cambie, in the  2500 Blk or the 2400 Blk, or on West Broadway in the 500 or 400 Blk.  So by making each member complete and entire RTCC and a diagram we will be able to read all the information and be able to correctly code the location of the collision.

Talk about a make work project.  Do some training or….. make every member who attends a collision do and hour or so of paperwork in case they made a statistical coding error.

Seems now we’ve done a 180°.  The stats that are created don’t tell the story.

Submitted by E-Mail

It boggles my mind that Bluetooth devices (handsfree devices) are accepted for use on our highways. It makes absolutely no difference if one is holding their cell phone or yacking to a hands free device.

Many years ago I proved the point to myself that the use of handsfree units is just as dangerous as actually conversing and holding the phone.

I had decided like many others to do things “legally” by purchasing a handsfree unit, and on one particular incident my mother called while I was returning home from work. I approached a traffic light which was red, came to a full stop, and while talking to my dear Mom looked for a clearing and then proceeded though the intersection. After I was through the intersection (thankfully in one piece) I realized what I had just done. It was at that moment that I decided that these handsfree devices are just as distracting to use as conversing while holding a cell phone.

Is your phone call seriously worth someone’s life?

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