What are you doing behind the wheel?

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Canada’s home, car and business insurers aim to change behaviour of drivers

TORONTO, Jan. 12, 2007 – Are Canadians prepared to give up their cellphones and other distractions while driving? Despite the growing body of research that concludes that driving while distracted is dangerous and increases the risk of a collision, drivers don’t appear to be listening.

A recent poll of Canadians suggests that while the majority is concerned about driver distractions and quick to point out the dangerous behaviour of others, many drivers are still reluctant to change their own driving habits.

“Driving while talking on a cellphone or otherwise distracted has become one of the most serious road safety issues in the country today,” said Stanley Griffin, President and CEO of Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC), the national trade association for Canada’s home, car and business insurers.

The poll, conducted by POLLARA, found that 89% of respondents were concerned about driver distractions such as talking on a cellphone or engaging in a growing list of tasks behind the wheel. But an alarming 60% of drivers indicated they would not stop using their cellphones when driving — even when told that their cellphone use makes them four times more likely to be involved in a collision.

Canada’s home, car and business insurers want to change that. The industry has announced the launch of a $4-million multimedia public education campaign. The campaign will remind drivers to keep their eyes on the road and avoid distractions while driving, such as cellphones, PDAs, text messaging, eating, and setting up the DVD player for the kids in the back seat.

“In an environment where multi-tasking has become the norm, drivers are allowing their attention to wander away from the task that requires their full attention — all too often with deadly results,” said Mark Yakabuski, Vice-President, Federal Affairs & Ontario, IBC.

“We believe education is the answer. This is not a young driver problem, and it is not a cellphone problem. Canadians need an attitude shift away from the notion that driving is a part-time job,” he stressed.

Mr. Yakabuski noted that research confirms the obvious: a distracted driver is a dangerous driver. For example, he pointed out that two separate studies — one done in Canada and the other in Australia — have concluded that drivers talking on cellphones are four times more likely to be involved in a collision.

IBC added to the mounting body of research today by releasing the results of a study it commissioned to compare the behaviour of novice and experienced drivers when distracted. A somewhat surprising finding of the study is that experienced drivers were just as susceptible as novice drivers to the distracting effects of talking on a cellphone.

“We expected our research would find that the novice drivers on cellphones drove considerably worse than their more experienced counterparts. While the novice drivers did perform poorly both on and off the phone, we were surprised that, in some respects, experienced drivers drove as badly as beginners did while on the phone,” said Mr. Yakabuski. “In the end, we found that these distractions worsened drivers’ ability to react quickly to hazards, no matter how much driving experience they had.”

The education campaign starts on January 22, and includes television commercials, and radio and print ads that will initially run in Ontario and Atlantic Canada for three months. The ads feature the theme: “What are you doing behind the wheel?” and show drivers eating sandwiches, drinking coffee, and doing other tasks that take their attention away from driving. The ads also direct people to a website (www.clickonthis.ca) for additional information on driver distractions and other injury-prevention issues.

Another aspect of the campaign is a contest under way in conjunction with CHUM Television. Canadians are invited to submit their driver distraction stories online or through Citytv’s Speakers Corner booths in Toronto, Ottawa, and London, Ontario.

“Almost everyone has a story about near-collisions or dangerous behaviour behind the wheel. By asking people to share their stories, we will engage them in the discussion and encourage them to think about their own driving habits,” said Mr. Yakabuski.

Industry representatives will also be visiting schools and service clubs to take the message directly to people throughout the province. As part of the presentation, an interactive driving simulator dubbed the D.U.M.B. Car (Distractions Undermining Motorist Behaviour) will provide a dramatic demonstration of what happens when you don’t keep your eyes on the road.

“Realistically, we know we can’t change behaviour overnight,” Mr. Yakabuski said. “But we believe that, in time, common sense combined with self-preservation will prevail, and Canadians will give the job of driving the respect it deserves.”

The research on driver distractions commissioned by IBC was conducted by Human Factors North, a Toronto-based consulting firm specializing in driver performance, signage and wayfinding, accident analysis, and laboratory and on-road experiments. The two-part study was conducted in a driving simulator in a University of Calgary laboratory and on the streets of Calgary.

In both phases, participants were asked to interact with cellphones while dealing with traffic situations. In the simulator, participants were also asked to interact with a CD player while driving. The reaction times, eye movements, and vehicle control of the participants were measured to assess driver performance.

Insurance Bureau of Canada is the national trade association of the private property and casualty insurance industry. It represents insurers who provide more than 90% of the non-government home, car and business insurance in Canada. For more information, visit www.ibc.ca.