CAA raising awareness about texting while driving

The Canadian Automobile Association (CAA) has come up with a creative way to raise awareness about the dangers of texting while driving.

Last week the CAA launched an online video contest encouraging contestants to submit videos showing the risks of texting while driving. The contest, called “Practise Safe Txt,” is aimed towards young people, which statistics show are the most likely to text while driving.

The Canada-wide contest is open to all high school and post-secondary students above the age of 16. Students can submit a video then vote online for their favourite, with the top ten submissions competing for a grand prize of $3,000. Prizes are also awarded to finalists and online voters.

The CAA hopes the contest will get young people thinking about the consequences of texting while driving.

“We wanted to see the creativity out there and different perspectives on how people were looking at [the issue],” said Liz Peters, public and government affairs manager for CAA Manitoba. “It’s the perfect venue for young people. I mean who better than young people to send a message to young people that you can’t do this anymore.”

Peters stressed that distracted driving is not limited to young people and can span all age groups. While this contest targets high school and post-secondary students, Peters said society in general needs to get the message.

“It’s a culture shift that needs to happen,” said Peters. “This kind of a contest speaks to young people but across the board we see people doing it all the time.”

A CAA survey conducted last year found that for the first time ever distracted driving tops the list as Canadian’s number one road concern, surpassing even impaired driving. Statistics show that someone who is texting while driving has their eyes off the road for an average of three to five seconds at a time.
A lot can happen in those few seconds, said Peters.

“If you’re looking away for two seconds travelling 50 km/h, you’ve travelled almost half the distance of a football field,” said Peters. “Anything that takes your eyes off the road, for even a second, is very distracting.”

Distracted driving is not limited to texting.

Brian Smiley, a spokesperson for Manitoba Public Insurance, pointed out that texting is just one of many in-car distractions.

“Vehicles have changed dramatically since 40 years ago. Vehicles nowadays have CD players, DVD players, GPS devices, a whole assortment of distractions for drivers to be involved with,” said Smiley. “Texting is just another distraction.”
Texting is still by far the worst distraction, said Smiley, adding that someone who is texting while driving is 23 times more likely to get into a collision than someone who is not.

Smiley said that additional education and awareness is needed to combat the issue, but ultimately it comes down to making a smart decision.

“Quite simply it is common sense,” he said. “We need to make the conscious decision that it is not right to text and drive.”

Michael Vuongphan, an athletic therapy student at the University of Manitoba, said he does not text and drive, and thinks it is a dangerous habit.

“Your visual attention is focused on the phone and not the road,” said Vuongphan. “I think it’s a big issue.”

The CAA’s “Practise Safe Txt” video contest is accepting submissions until Nov. 27, 2011. Videos will be judged based on positive, accurate messaging, creativity and artistic merit.

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