Students expand coalition for cellphone-free driving
- By Ileiren Byles, ExpressNews Staff (U of A)
Nov 21, 2006 - A group of University of Alberta researchers and graduate students made a
whirlwind tour of Alberta to mark the one-year anniversary of a program that convinces
companies to keep employees cell-phone-free while driving.
On the first anniversary of the Coalition for Cellphone-Free Driving's launch, the group
announced it is expanding. The coalition, previously a capital-region initiative, kicked off a
provincial campaign today during a nine-stop tour of Alberta - hitting all of the province's health
"We do want to put a little pressure on all the health regions in one day," said Dr. Louis Hugo
Francescutti, a professor in the School of Public Health, during the group's stop in Edmonton.
"Albertans have to understand that you can't talk on a cellphone - whether it's hand-held or
hands-free - and drive a vehicle. You just can't do it. And if you try to do it, what ends up
happening is you're more likely to be involved in rear-end collisions, you're more likely to be
involved in left-hand turn collisions, you're four to six times more likely to be involved in
It doesn't matter if the cellphone is hand-held or hands-free, said Francescutti. "It's the
conversation that's the distracter. This is an issue that doesn't need much talking. The science is
irrefutable. Either we're stupid, and we don't believe the science, or we're stupid and we're just
putting people's lives at risk."
The project, created and led by graduate students in the U of A School of Public Health,
convinced several prominent Alberta companies to adopt policies that restrict their employees'
use of cellphones while driving.
To date, six corporate sponsors officially signed on with a commitment to cellphone-free driving.
It's a decision that made sense for engineering firm AMEC, said John Kageorge, the company's
"Businesses that are loading their employees up with gadgets and gizmos, giving them huge task
lists and putting them behind the wheel need to think twice and act responsibly," he said. "We
have 20,000 employees around the globe - all cellphone free - and we encourage other businesses
to do likewise. This model designed by Louis Francescutti is brilliant, but it's no more than what
your mothers tell you to do - focus on the task at hand and work at getting home."
This year, the coalition has expanded its program to increase public awareness about the dangers
of driving while using a cellphone, through a new partnership with some of Alberta's regional
health authorities. Sterling Crane provided an aircraft to shuttle the team of students and
supporters between nine locations to host kick-off events around the province.
"The safety of our employees is very important," said Russ Brown, Sterling Crane's director of
safety and environmental affairs. "Whether an injury occurs on or off the job, it has an impact on
our business, which extends well beyond economics and touches us very personally. We are
confident that our cellphone policy will make a difference."
Drivers only need to watch the road to see how cellphones affect safety, he said. "You all see the
activity on the road, you recognize the people who are driving while they're talking and you can
see the bad behaviours of those people and the risk that we're at."
The policy developed by the students stipulates that employees must ensure that, while driving,
calls are directed to voice mail. If an employee must make an emergency 911 call, the vehicle
should be parked in a safe location before making the call. Finally, coalition members must
ensure all employees are aware of the policy and are expected to comply with it.
"I am very proud of the great job our students and regional supporters did on this project," said
Francescutti. "And to have the opportunity to celebrate our provincial expansion and meet our
partners in person across Alberta is tremendous."
Injuries are the leading cause of death for people aged one to 44 years in Alberta; motor vehicle-
related injuries account for the majority of these deaths. In Alberta, six people die every week in
traffic collisions. Most motor vehicle collisions are the result of driver error.
"The School of Public Health is about this, it's about those things within our society that create
injury, lead to chronic disease, lead to those sorts of things which our health system just can't
manage," said Roger Palmer, dean of the School of Public Health. "If we have good basic public
policy, if we start to change some of these habits that we all have, we would do a lot to improve
the overall standard of care in the health system in this province."