Prevalence of Distracted Driving in Downtown Vancouver

Author(s): Cecile Lacombe, Jon Wong, Heather Stack, Quinn Yu, Ian Benoit, Pawel Mirski

Slidedeck Presentation Only (no paper submitted):

5B Steinmetz_Prevalence of Distracted Driving in Downtown Vancouver


Background: The use of Handheld Electronic Devices (HEDs) such as cell phones or smart phones while driving has become a growing concern in numerous jurisdictions over the past few years. Evidence suggests that this behaviour is dangerous and increases the risk of motor vehicle crashes.1  In British Columbia, despite recent legislation banning the use of HEDs while driving (2010), many drivers appear to still phone and text.  The exact extent of the problem remains uncertain.

Aims: The research project was a collaboration between the BC Office of the Superintendent of Motor Vehicles (OSMV) and the Simon Fraser University School of Public Policy. Its aim was to extend knowledge on the prevalence of distracted driving in British Columbia. The project also comprised an educational aspect for five students who collected and analysed data under OSMV guidance, and discussed potential solutions as part of their class work.

Method: Drawing from existing methodologies2, cars were observed in two high-traffic areas of the downtown Vancouver, during a full week, two hours each day. A total of 6,524 vehicles were observed. For each vehicle, observers determined whether or not drivers were using HEDs, and when this was the case, they collected drivers’ gender, and the type of usage (e.g., texting, phoning). The analysis determined the prevalence of the behaviour (percentage), and examined differences based on time of the day, usage type, and driver gender.

Results: Out of the sample, 268 drivers  (4.11%) were observed using HEDs while driving. About three quarters (76%) of the drivers using a HED were texting. The use of HED was higher during weekday afternoon rush hour (5.04%).

Discussion and conclusion: The findings indicate that current prevalence of HED use by drivers in the City of Vancouver is similar to that established by a study2 conducted prior to the enactment of the 2010 legislation. The results are also consistent with those of a recent pan-Canadian study 3that shows a 5.4% prevalence of HED use for the province of British Columbia. The findings show that texting while driving is at the heart of the problem, even more so than phoning. While 4.11% may appear to be a low percentage, this could mean that, at any time in the observed locations, one car out of twenty-five is operated by a driver who is texting or phoning, and this represents an important risk for the population.  Potential solutions to curb the behaviours are discussed.


1  Olson, R.L et al. (2009) Driver Distraction In Commercial Vehicle Operations. US Department of Transportation. http://www.distraction.gov/download/research-pdf/Driver-Distraction-Commercial-Vehicle-Operations.pdf

2  Wilson, J., et al. (2007).  British Columbia 2006 Driver Distractions Survey. Report, Insurance Corporation of British Columbia

3  Canadian Council of Motor Transport Administrators (2013). Use of Electronic Communication Devices by Canadian Drivers in Urban Areas. http://www.ccmta.ca/en/publications/item/use-of-electronic-communication-devices-ecd-by-canadian-drivers-in-urban-areas-october-2013?category_id=131