Cars have become a “workplace” for drivers: Travelers Symposium

Insurer has seen an increase in rear-end collisions, the #1 accident caused by distracted driving

“The car is a workplace,” declared Jordan Solway at the Every Second Matters Distracted Driving Symposium in Toronto on Monday.

Solway, the group general counsel and vice-president of claim at Travelers Canada, was speaking as part of a panel organized by The Travelers Institute to raise awareness about distracted driving. He noted that work demands are increasingly pressuring drivers into answering their phones when they’re behind the wheel. Yvan Baker, MPP for Etobicoke Centre, agreed.

“People face increasing pressure to check their phones from their employers, like emails to see if you’re responsive,” Baker said.

On top of that, there’s also Instagram, Twitter, Faceook and other apps that seize the attention of drivers.

According to Travelers Canada’s new poll, 37% of Canadian drivers talk or text behind the wheel. Of those, 31% said they were “compelled” by family obligations that require constant attention. Another 27% explained they did not want to miss “something important” (aka FOMO), while 14% always want to be available for work.

Related: Travelers survey finds 37% of Canadian drivers admit to using a mobile device behind the wheel

Solway urged all employers to write guidelines about driving, texting and talking (including conferencing), noting that Travelers Canada has one.

“There should be rules but also sanctions in those policies…to change behaviour,” added Pamela Fuselli, a vice-president at Parachute Canada, a charity that educates the public on preventing serious injuries.

Drivers can also simply set their phones to “do not disturb” when they’re behind the wheel, noted Travelers Institute president Joan Woodward.

Woodward led the audience in a live poll on the best strategies to curb distracted driving. The top vote-getter was smartphone-blocking technology. Fines, law enforcement, pressure from friends and knowing someone harmed by distracted driving all tied for second.

Solway observed that one of the biggest challenges in eliminating distracted driving is getting people to acknowledge that they may be driving distracted themselves.

“People don’t see their own culpability,” he said. “They rationalize it.”

Solway has seen a troubling rise in rear-end collisions, the number-one accident caused by distracted driving, according to the OPP.

Baker added, “People aren’t concerned about facing a penalty and getting caught.” To deter them, he’s sponsoring a bill in Ontario that would now penalize second- and third-time offenders with a $3,000 fine, 30-day license suspension and six demerit points.

Meanwhile, the OPP has made some progress by perching its officers in SUVs to look down and catch drivers texting or talking, or using aircraft to pinpoint cars weaving along highways. But OPP Constable Gord Keen urged stronger preventative measures.

“Employees lack training,” Keen said. “Australia and New Zealand are way ahead of us in how they educate people on distracted driving. The goal is to get the message out.”

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