Many things can distract drivers behind the wheel – smartphones, other passengers, eating while driving or in-car touch screens– but these obvious dangers, especially related to personal smartphone use, are still not clearly being recognized by many Canadian drivers.

According to a recently released survey by Desjardins, Canadians know distracted driving is a big risk factor on the road. While 8 in 10 respondents (79%) say they regularly see other drivers using a smartphone behind the wheel, only 38 percent admit to having driven distracted at least once. A further 21% admitted to using their phone while driving within the past year.

Smartphone-related distracted driving is more pronounced with younger drivers. Eleven percent of drivers aged 16-24 admit to driving while using their smartphone on a regular basis, twice the national average (5%).

When asked what drivers use their smartphone for while driving, one-third point to GPS apps as the primary reason. Here too, however, younger drivers are more likely to reach for the phone, with 45% of drivers aged 16-24 using GPS apps compared to only 22% of the 55-74 age group. Non-smartphone distractions include: the external environment (51%), focusing on passengers or children in the vehicle (35%), changing settings on the vehicle's entertainment system (35%) and eating or drinking (31%).

Overall, Canadians ranked distracted driving as the second largest risk factor when they take to the road, behind alcohol impaired driving. So, what will change distracted driver behaviour?

The survey found that the biggest deterrent were consequences related to getting caught using a smartphone behind the wheel. Fifty-five percent are most concerned about fines and the potential for higher insurance rates. While 37 percent of drivers stated that getting into a motor-vehicle collision would make them more likely to stop driving distracted.

While drivers fear the financial consequences of distracted driving, a strong majority (68%) say that current laws are not effective enough in deterring distracted driving.

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