British Columbia Safety Council

British Columbia Safety Council

August 07, 2009 12:45 ET

BC Safety Council: Ban Cell Phones While Driving

RICHMOND, BRITISH COLUMBIA--(Marketwire - Aug. 7, 2009) - The British Columbia Safety Council is advocating a total ban on cell phone use while driving, saying the practice is clearly dangerous and has been linked to fatalities in media stories recently.

The Province of British Columbia should ban drivers from using hand-held and hands-free cell phones and other electronic devices, and businesses should prohibit employees from using cell phones while driving on the job, the BC Safety Council says, taking those positions for the first time.

The council's Executive Director, Bryan Lowes, likened talking on cell phones to drunken driving, saying cell phone use increases the risk of a crash fourfold.

"When our friends have been drinking, we take the car keys away. It's time to take the cell phone away," Lowes said in an interview.

Provinces ban hand-held phones

No jurisdiction has banned all cellphone use in vehicles while driving, although several provinces are considering it. The council's resolution refers to "electronic devices", which Lowes acknowledged is "pretty broad". He said the Council is referring to cell phones, texting devices, computers, entertainment devices, PDAs and BlackBerrys, all of which have the potential to distract drivers' attention away from seeing an accident scenario developing around them. He acknowledged there was some discussion over whether a ban should extend to other devices such as GPS units or iPods.

"We struggled with that a little bit, because how far do you go?" Lowes said.

Council officials acknowledged a total ban could take years and enforcement could prove difficult.

"While Public awareness is improving, the laws haven't caught up with what the scientists are telling us," Lowes said. "There is no dispute that driving while talking on your cell phone, or texting while driving, is dangerous."

Lowes said the Council relied on the results from many studies conducted around the world before reaching its decision. Canadian research is limited but produces similar findings to international studies. The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety in December 2008 indicated that using a cell phone while driving is associated with roughly a quadrupling of crash risk. The US Transportation Research Laboratory reported in 2008 that relative driver impairment caused by texting while driving was significant, with the failure to detect hazards, increased response times to hazards and exposure time to those risks having clear implications for safety. The Harvard Center for Risk Analysis estimated in 2003 that cell phone use by drivers may cause 2,600 deaths, 330,000 moderate to critical injuries and 1.5 million property damage incidents in the US per year. Research around the world has also concluded that hands-free cell phones are just as risky as hand held phones, he added.

"Cell phone conversations involving a driver differ from conversations with passengers. A passenger sees traffic conditions and can actually help make the driver aware of potential accidents; people at the other end of a cell phone cannot provide the same benefit. It's not just what you're doing with your hands - it's that your head is in the conversation and so your eyes and mind are not on the road," Lowes said.

52 percent of users talk while driving

Transport Canada has done very little research into the matter, having simply patched on a brief observational study of in-vehicle cell phone use to a couple of seat belt studies back in 2006 and 2007 (Observational Survey of Cell Phone use by Drivers of Light Duty Vehicles 2006-2007).

And the results of this study are questionable. Transport Canada concluded that an average of 5.5% of Canadians use a cell phone while driving. But a recent IPSOS Reid study had a full 52% of drivers admitting to this behaviour.

What makes cell phone use distinct from other risky driving behaviors, Lowes said, is the magnitude - there are 21 million cell phone users in Canada and as many as 52 percent of them talk on the phone while driving.

FOR BROADCAST USE:

The British Columbia Safety Council is advocating the Government of British Columbia ban drivers from using hand-held and hands-free cell phones and other electronic devices, and businesses should prohibit employees from using them while driving on the job.

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