Distracted Driving: The New Alcohol. A Case Study of a Rising Public Health Issue in British Columbia

by Svetlana Smirnova

Institution: Simon Fraser University
Year: 2014
Record ID: 2050107
Full text PDF: http://summit.sfu.ca/item/14533


In the risk society, the public mobilization around emerging environmental and health risks associated with new technologies become the central challenge for a sustainable and healthy democracy. Ulrich Beck defines reflexive modernization as the ability of democratic societies to develop scientific understandings of emerging risks associated with new industrial technologies. Reflexive modernity is galvanized by progressive eco-politics that guide better ways of managing and mitigating systemic environmental and health risks. This thesis examines evidence of the growing scientific understanding of health risks associated with distracted driving-caused road accidents as a case study exploring Canada’s ability to translate this risk science into progressive public policy that improves road safety. The study starts by exploring historical risk communication strategies and their role in altering drivers’ behaviours and compliance with legislations limiting speed, impaired driving, and seatbelt use. It then reviews evidence of the new risks associated with using electronic communication devices while driving which has resulted in legislation prohibiting the use of hand-held devices by drivers across Canada and in BC. Three years into the legislation, this study found that at the very least 1.7% of all drivers are currently distracted behind the wheel. Through surveys and focus groups, the thesis explores why drivers are not willing to give up their communication habits despite existing legislations and sanctions. Recent crash data demonstrated that deaths attributed to distracted driving declined more slowly in British Columbia than from drinking, speeding, and non-use of seatbelts. The research concludes with a discussion of the importance of the lifestyle risk communication for a healthier reflexive modernity in British Columbia.