We all have control over whether we use a personal electronic device while driving, but what happens when it is someone else who is driving, or a driver you are paying to transport you safely to a destination?

Facebook is rife with personal stories of drivers for hire being distracted while behind the wheel. Like any other driver, it can be difficult for some taxi, limo or Uber drivers to ignore the alerts coming from their phone or alternative personal device.

ANDERSON cab graphic FINAL bodyFacebook logo courtesy of Free Stock Photos

“Cab drivers do seem very distracted,” says Lyndon Balcewich from Winnipeg, Man. “Not even on their pickup system it always seems to be their personal electronics.”

“My last cabbie was watching the news on his propped up phone while driving,” says Shawna Marie of Calgary.

The Canadian Automobile Association references Alberta Transportation, and reports that, “distracted drivers are three times more likely to be in a crash than attentive drivers.”

As well, a report released by the National Safety Council of America in 2012 stated: “Estimates indicate that drivers using cell phones look but fail to see up to 50 per cent of the information in their driving environment.”

Naeem Chaudhry, general manager at Calgary United Cabs, says they do not tolerate distracted driving.

“We don’t recommend drivers to use the [dispatch terminal] while they’re driving,” Chaudhry says. “We ask them to pull [over to] the side. The only thing they can use is the hands-free device if they need to talk to the office.”

Chaudhry further explains that the dispatch terminal is the newest technology being installed in cabs, replacing the older two-way radio system. Since most drivers have their own individual cell phones, they are switching to Bluetooth, which is entirely hands-free.

“It is company policy [to not use personal cell phones] and also it is a city bylaw that drivers are not supposed to use their phone while in service. Service means when they have a customer in the car, or even if they’re driving they are not supposed to use their cell phone … for any reason.”

Chaudhry says each car is equipped with a video recording device, and if he receives a complaint about any driver abusing or not following these policies, they can review the video footage.

Cab edit bodyNaeem Chaudhry, general manager for Calgary United Cabs, says they use a colour-coded system on the dispatch terminal to track the drivers and their status, another way to reduce driver distraction. Photo by Skye Anderson.

If the driver was in fact not adhering to the distracted driving policies, Chaudhry says they would start with a suspension, and in more serious cases they would let the driver go. However, he says he receives few complaints in regards to distracted cab drivers.

“Safety is always first priority,” Chaudhry stresses.

Tahir Khan, a driver with Calgary United Cabs, says he pulls over to use things like maps and cell phones. “I have been doing this for 14 years and have a clean driving record,” Khan says.

Now that Uber is officially back in Calgary, citizens will have yet another option for transportation.

According to a report released by the company in July 2016, Uber has a specialized team that works towards reducing the number of accidents on the road.

The team designed an application specifically for Uber drivers that includes the four following features:

· Daily reports to improve the ride

· Reminders to take a break

· Alerts to remind drivers to not to hold phone in hands

· Speed display

As with Calgary United Cabs, Uber encourages drivers not to have their phones in their hands, but instead require that they mount their phone on their dashboards. Since Uber drivers need their cell phones to connect with riders, they cannot put it away entirely like cab drivers are encouraged to.

According to the Collision Reconstruction Unit of the Calgary Police Service, 5,597 distracted driving tickets were issued from January until the end of October 2016. Drivers for hire fall under the same distracted driving laws as regular drivers so there is no figure available on the number of them who have been charged, but based on an informal survey of Facebook it seems likely that some are driving distracted.

If your driver is distracted by looking at their phone every once in awhile, instead of focusing all their attention on the road, would you say anything? Nicky Arsenault of Calgary says she and her friend once asked a cab driver to call a different taxi because their driver was texting and driving.

Khan edit bodyTahir Khan, driver from Calgary United Cabs, says he still sees many distracted drivers on the roads despite the laws and fines set in place. Photo by Skye Anderson.

“The cab driver was paying zero attention and almost hit an election sign that some kids moved into the street,” Arsenault says. “He slammed on his brakes and both of us hit our heads on the side windows and seats.”

Sgt. Colin Foster of the CPS is in charge of the Collision Reconstruction Unit and he says the most common type of distracted driving is people on their cell phones or texting while driving.

“They are the [largest] portions of the distracted driving tickets that we do issue,” Foster says.

He added that “the most interesting thing I’ve seen or heard about was a guy playing a saxophone while he was driving.”

Therefore, he offers advice for all drivers, “When you get to your car, turn your phone off. Concentrate on driving, that’s what your main role is when you’re behind a steering wheel.”


The editor responsible for this article is Katherine Huitema and can be contacted at khuitema@cjournal.ca

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