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How to have a safer drive on this traditionally fatal long weekend

Rush hour traffic from Highway 400 merges with the eastbound Highway 401 during rush hour in Toronto (2009 file photo).

Randall Moore/The Globe and Mail

Traffic volume is high during the first long weekend of the season, so it's prudent to take extra precaution on the roads over this - or any holiday weekend, according to police.

"There's a lot of people heading out to beaches and going to cottages loaded up with all kinds of gear. They're all excited and in good moods, but sometimes they lose their focus and attention on driving," says Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) Sgt. Kerry Schmidt.

A recent survey conducted for auto insurer ingenie of 600 Ontario students, who are licensed drivers, shows distracted driving remains an issue. Three in four young drivers admit to being distracted by changing music; 33 per cent check text or emails and 21 per cent send messages while driving. More than half use phones for directions and 58 per cent eat while driving.

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"We've had a couple of crashes this week already. There was one with a dash cam capturing some of the aftermath where a driver was looking at another crash. Because the driver was looking at that crash she had a crash of her own on the other side of the highway, into another car that was stopped to help," says Schmidt. "Again, drivers need to focus and realize that there's a lot of people out there...We want you to get out there and have fun, but do it responsibly."

Pre-planning navigation routes, switching a cellphone to airplane-mode and stopping for food and rest breaks are some preventative measures. The ingenie insurance program, newly available for 16 - 24 year olds in Ontario, uses telematics to monitor and reward good driving.

"With the use of our ingenie smart box, which is a very small device that they can easily install in the OBD port in their car, we actually measure how they drive. We consider the smoothness of their driving in four key areas: speeding, acceleration, braking and cornering. We then provide feedback on how they're driving using twitter-style messages to an app that they would have installed. They get feedback on how they're driving every ten days, with messages and colour-coded scores out of a hundred. When they're driving well, we provide them with financial rewards and we do that every three months," says ingenie Canada CEO Lorie Phair.

In the U.K., where ingenie was introduced in 2011, the approach has reduced young drivers' accident risk during the first six months of driving by 40 per cent.

According to ICBC, the public auto insurer in British Columbia, over a May long weekend, on average, two people are killed and 490 are injured in crashes throughout the province. In Ontario, the OPP track and report only the most tragic outcomes; last year two fatalities occurred in Ontario as a result of motor vehicle collisions. In 2013 there was one fatality in Ontario over the Victoria Day weekend, and in 2012 there were nine.

High-risk driving behaviours that police will be cracking down on this long weekend include failing to yield the right-of-way, unsafe lane changes, speeding, tailgating and ignoring traffic control devices.

"The line I've been using for years is when you're packing the car, pack a little patience. You will get to where you're going. In some cases it may just take a little longer depending on traffic volume," says OPP Sgt. Peter Leon.

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