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Staying safe on the roads as summer driving season begins

TORONTO, May 19, 2017 - With the Victoria Day holiday weekend upon us to mark the unofficial start of the summer driving season, CAMH’s in-house expert on driving behaviour, Dr. Christine Wickens, has some simple advice for staying safe and calm on the roads.

“Prepare. Plan ahead. Give yourself lots of time,” says Christine. “When you are in a rush, something that could otherwise be perceived as a minor annoyance can become a major source of frustration behind the wheel.”

Dr. Wickens’ research has found a link between driver aggression and an increased risk of a crash.

And with the long weekend coming at the end of National Road Safety Week, the dangers of distracted driving, especially texting, are being emphasized. In 2016, for the fourth year in a row, distracted driving was the leading cause of road deaths in Ontario, even more than drinking and driving.

Dr. Wickens believes that despite all the public education about the dangers of distracted driving, and the recent introduction of stricter new laws, many Ontarians are still not getting the message.

“When we talk about the history of drinking and driving, decades ago that was still considered socially acceptable to a point,” says Christine. “There certainly wasn’t the same kind of social disapproval there is today. But has that translated yet to texting and driving? No I don’t think so. One group we really worry about are younger drivers who report much higher use of cell phones for texting purposes and social media. Certainly amongst younger drivers, we’re not getting to that level of social disapproval for this kind of behaviour.”

According to CAMH’s annual Ontario Student Drug Use and Health Survey (OSDUHS), over one-third of high school students old enough to drive admit to texting while behind the wheel.

And the most recent CAMH Monitor says it’s not just young drivers who aren’t getting the message. 37% of Ontario adults admitted texting while driving at least once in the last year. 11% admitted doing it at least 30 times a year.

“A lot of people say texting and driving is wrong, but think it’s ok if you’re at a stoplight and not moving but that is not the case. It’s still dangerous,” says Christine.

She describes a scenario where someone is stopped at a red light and starts texting. They lose track of time, and next think they know the car behind is honking at them to move. Flustered, the driver makes a turn without taking the time to see if a pedestrian is crossing.

“You need to be aware of your environment at all times.”

Dr. Christine Wickens
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