Auto Insurance

Distracted driving is killing more than impaired driving in parts of Canada

By: Lisa Coxon on October 29, 2019

Story update: In the original version of this story, we indicated that a distracted driving conviction in downtown Toronto would result in a 68% hike in annual insurance premiums, and was known as “careless driving, undue care or attention." However, we didn’t provide enough context. A distracted driving charge on its own is known as the "prohibited use of hand-held device" but can be upgraded to a careless driving charge, if, for instance, the distraction results in the death or bodily harm of someone. The upgrading of the charge is determined by police on a case by case basis. We’ve since clarified the numbers to show what “prohibited use of a hand-held device” would do to someone’s insurance premiums in downtown Toronto. 

Distracted driving is on its way to being more deadly than impaired driving, according to data from the Traffic Injury Research Foundation (TIRF), CBC News reports. And experts say there’s a real “disconnect” among Canadians when it comes to understanding how dangerous distracted driving really is.

According to CBC News, the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) has seen 44 fatalities so far this year that were caused by distracted driving; compared to 34 deaths from impaired driving.

Many Canadians are happy to point a finger at others, but have a harder time turning that finger on themselves, according to a recent Desjardins survey that found 84% respondents said they often or always see other using their cellphones while driving, but only 53% admitted to driving distracted themselves.

“There seems to be a disconnect,” Karen Bowman, communications director at TIRF, told CBC News. “Drivers don't connect the behaviours they’re engaging in and the risks that are associated with those distractions behind the wheel.”

Const. Ed Jowstra expressed the same sentiment. “Everybody knows it's not a good idea to drive while you're using your smartphone, and yet it seems like there's more and more of it,” he told CBC News.

In Ontario, the number of collisions caused by distracted driving has doubled since 2000, according to the Ministry of Transportation. And distracted driving has increased by 42% over the last five years in Edmonton.

2013 data from the Ministry of Transportation shows that in Ontario, someone is hurt in a distracted-driving collision every half hour. And a driver distracted by their phone is four times more likely to crash.

Police don’t need to use very sophisticated measures, either, in order to tell if a driver is distracted while driving.

CBC News tagged along in an unmarked vehicle with the OPP on the Trans-Canada Highway in an effort to catch distracted drivers. All police need to do is watch for drivers who don’t have their eyes forward and their head upright; then speed up to get near the vehicle in question and see if they can photograph them using their phone while driving — evidence that can later be used in court.

Distracted driving convictions are almost certainly going to result in an increase in auto insurance premiums for drivers, if not outright denial of coverage, which many insurers have been doing.

To find out how a distracted driving charge would affect someone’s annual insurance premium, we ran a test on our auto insurance quoter.

Our hypothetical driver is a 29-year-old male driving a 2018 Mazda CX-5 with all-wheel drive in downtown Toronto. He has his G licence and has been insured consistently since 2006. He’s been with his current insurance company for two years. His lowest rate on our site was $2,303 a year.

We then redid the quote using those same parameters, but included him receiving a distracted driving conviction in June of this year. 

His lowest rate jumped by 15%, to $2,708 a year.

If that charge were to be upgraded to a careless driving charge, however, his lowest rate would jump by 66%, to a whopping $6,820 a year.