Cell Phone Usage

Res #: 26-02M
Number: 26
Year: 2002
Midterm: Yes
Expired: Yes
Responses Received: No
Departments: SaskTel

Resolution No. 26-02M

WHEREAS, in recent years there have been a number of serious motor vehicle accidents that have occurred because a driver was talking on a cell phone;T

HEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, that we ask the Provincial Government to come up with legislation that would promote safer use of cell phones in motor vehicles.

Response From The Honourable Maynard Soontag:

Your member's concern with cellular phone use while driving is understandable. As you may know, there is a body of literature suggesting this practice is risky. For example, two studies completed last year, one in Quebec and one in British Columbia, concluded that cellular usage while driving is distracting; of note, the BC study found that hands-free phones were just as distracting as handheld phones. An earlier study, completed in 1997, estimated the risk of collision to be three to seven times as high when driving while using a cellular phone.

The use of cellular phones while driving is a part of the larger issue of driver distraction. For example, many other driving habits, including tuning a radio, changing a CD, or drinking coffee while driving, may well be as risky as cellular phone use. Moreover, vehicles are increasingly being equipped with video screens, fax machines, and devices offering e-mail and the internet capabilities ("telematics").

Yet our knowledge of how risky these habits and devices are, as compared to cellular phone use, is very limited at this point. In a study published last year by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, using a cellular phone was cited among 1.5 per cent of distracted drivers in crashes. More common distractions were people, objects, and events outside the vehicle (29.4 per cent), adjusting a radio, cassette of CD player (11.4 per cent), and other vehicle occupants (10.9 per cent).

It is also important to remember that of the studies we are aware of to date, none have been able to isolate whether the drivers were actually using a cellular phone at the time of the accident.

According to the Canadian Wireless and Telecommunications Association, the number of cellular phone subscribers in Canada grew from about 1.3 million in 1993 to 8.7 million in 200 (an increase if 569 per cent). Over the same period, the number of fatal collisions in Canada decreased from 3121 to 2560, and the number of injury collisions decreased from 168,106 to 155,968.

The Canadian Council of Motor Transport Administrators (CCMTA), which includes representatives from each province and territory, has been considering the direction of policy for driver distraction. CCMTA is recommending that jurisdictions develop public education and awareness programs on the safe use of cellular phones while driving. At the same time, a CCMTA standing committee continues to monitor the developments related to cellular phones and "telematics".

Saskatchewan shares the view of the other CCMTA member jurisdictions on this matter. On September 3, 2001, SGI launched a new campaign to promote awareness about the importance of paying attention while driving. The campaign includes television and radio advertisements, as well as billboards. The Corporation borrowed the campaign from its sister Crown in British Columbia, and is optimistic it will remind drivers about the dangers of driver distraction.

While most CCMTA jurisdictions are approaching the cellular phone issue by addressing it as a safety problem due to driver distraction, some indicated that they may consider a legislative approach. To date, only one Canadian jurisdiction, Newfoundland, has proposed legislation to ban the use of a cellular phone while driving. This legislation is now on hold. A private member's bill concerning cellular phone use while driving was recently introduced in Ontario.

Saskatchewan is not considering introducing legislation to ban cellular phone use at this time. Provincial legislation now allows the police to lay a charge of "driving without due care/reasonable consideration" when a driver is using a cellular phone in a way that poses a danger to other road users. Also, SGI intends to continue its education and awareness campaign with respect to driver distraction.

Saskatchewan remains committed to cooperating with other jurisdictions to monitor and develop appropriate strategies to deal with this issue. This includes an ongoing examination of whether legislation is an appropriate means of managing the problem. We will also continue to focus on the larger issue of driver distraction and its safety implications.

I hope you find this information helpful. If you have any questions, or to discuss the issue in more detail, please contact Kwei Quaye, SGI's Manager of Traffic Safety Program Evaluation, in Regina at 775-6182, or toll-free at 1-800-667-8015 (ext. 6182).