Canadian drivers continue to use cell phones while behind the wheel: TIRF poll

OTTAWA, February 23, 2012 – In a new Road Safety Monitor (RSM) poll by the Traffic Injury Research Foundation (TIRF) it was found that more than a third (36.3%) of Canadian drivers admitted to using their cell phones while behind the wheel in the last seven days, up from 20.5% in 2001. The report, based on a public opinion poll conducted in September 2011, investigates trends in cell phone use while driving over the last decade.

One explanation for the increase from 2001 to 2011 in the number of Canadians who admit to using their cell phones while driving is the increased accessibility and affordability of cell phones and the popularization of hands-free devices and accessories. However, any time spent focused on non-driving related tasks while behind the wheel puts drivers and other road users at risk.

“Available research generally estimates that driver distraction is a factor in 20% – 30% of road crashes,” explains Robyn Robertson, TIRF President and CEO. “Self-reported data from our survey showed that over a quarter of all survey respondents had to brake or steer to avoid being in a collision because they were distracted by something inside or outside their vehicle in the last month. Taking your eyes and attention off the road for even a few seconds can increase crash risk.”

Despite the increase in the number of Canadians in 2011 admitting to using their cell phones while driving compared to the number in 2001, more drivers are admitting to using their phones for shorter periods of time. A majority of drivers (65.2%) who reported using their cell phone while driving said that they used it for 10 minutes or less in the past week. In 2001, only a little more than half (57.5%) of the 20.5% of those who used their cell phone while driving said they used their device for 10 minutes or less in the past week. Consistent with this increase, there has been a decrease in those using their cell phones for more than 30 minutes in the past week.

“In 2001, almost 20% of respondents who said they had used their cell phone had used it for more than thirty minutes the previous week,” explains Ms. Robertson. “It is encouraging to see this shift and that drivers are becoming more conscientious about restricting cell phone use. Now we need to see increases in the number of people not using their phone at all while driving.”

Thanks to public polls, observational studies and laboratory testing, researchers know much more about distracted driving than we did in 2001. However there are still many aspects of the problem that institutes like TIRF would like to examine further. These include the influence of new provincial laws, the effectiveness of various education efforts, and the collection of more detailed collision data. As a co-host with the Canadian Automobile Association (CAA) of the Driven to Distraction Conference on March 1st in Toronto, TIRF hopes to identify opportunities to start to fill these knowledge gaps with the help of enforcement, government, industry, and community groups.

“In 2005, TIRF and CAA held their first international conference on distracted driving. Since then research has continued to inform our understanding of the problem,” notes Robertson. “More importantly, governments, industry and community groups have been very active in implementing a variety of educational, prevention and enforcement strategies. The upcoming conference is the perfect venue to bring together all parties and share their experiences on the implementation of strategies in the last five years.”

About the poll

These results are based on the Road Safety Monitor (RSM), an annual public opinion poll developed and conducted by TIRF. A total of 1,208 Canadians completed the poll in September and October of 2011. Results can be considered accurate within plus or minus 2.8%, 19 times out of 20. This report was made possible by financial support from Transport Canada and the Brewers Association of Canada. A copy of the full report is available at

About TIRF

Established in 1964, TIRF’s mission is to reduce traffic-related deaths and injuries. As a national, independent, charitable road safety research institute, TIRF designs, promotes, and implements effective programs and policies, based on sound research. TIRF is a registered charity and depends on grants, contracts, and donations to provide services for the public. Visit us online at

For more information on the Driven to Distraction Conference, conference registration and webcast, please visit