Drivers are 23 times more likely to be in a collision or have a close call when they're texting, and four to five times more likely when they're on a phone call – yet distracted driving numbers continue to climb in St. Albert.
The Alberta Motor Association (AMA) last April issued a warning: "Distracted driving is very dangerous, and it’s putting everyone who uses our roads at risk." Things can happen quickly on the road, and AMA says on average you're looking away from the road for the length of a football field every time you send a text.
Distracted driving is dangerous because people have a false sense of security in their ability to multitask, says Louis Francescutti, a preventative and emergency doctor at the University of Alberta. He says distracted driving is worse than impaired driving, and there are more of the former on the roads than the latter.
People are addicted to their phones, Francescutti said – not just because of the technology, but because humans are addicted to communication, and conversation and connection is very important to us.
"When you get a ding or feel your cellphone buzz, you believe you are important," he said.
Laws in Alberta don't address a larger issue, either. While the law tackles some use of phones (like texting and driving), people can also be distracted by hands-free conversations. Francescutti said taking a hands-free call still comes with its dangers – especially since 60 per cent of our brains are consumed when we are in a conversation with someone else, leaving a much smaller part of our focus on driving.
"It's the conversation that's the distraction," he said.
"We've given people a false sense of security."
In St. Albert, the numbers for distracted driving continue to rise. In 2014, the RCMP handed out 670 tickets for distracted driving along with 46 warnings. In 2015, they distributed 405 tickets and 65 warnings.
By the end of 2016, some 690 tickets were issued that year along with 59 warnings.
In St. Albert's most recent traffic collision update, the RCMP notes its officers handed out 834 tickets in 2017, with 178 warnings – highs for both categories over the past four years.
Francescutti says Albertans just don't seem to understand the risks associated with distracted driving. Even after high-profile tragedies – as far back as the collision that killed Princess Diana in 1997, or as recent as the collision of a semi-truck with the Humboldt Broncos team bus last April – people still aren't registering the dangers of not giving their full attention to driving.
"Injuries ... are the leading cause of death for Albertans under the age of 45, and yet we view accidents as freak events or acts of God," Francescutti said. Although not all injuries happen from collisions, those do make up part of that statistic.
He added these incidents are completely preventable on roadways, and a shift in attitude among Albertans could help keep people safe.
The Gazette could not reach a spokesperson with the St. Albert RCMP by press time.