Alberta Introduces New Distraction Law: Sept 1, 2011
On Sept 1 Alberta will introduce one of the toughest driver distraction laws in the country. This is leaving many confused (including myself) as to what we can do behind the wheel and what we can’t do behind the wheel. The law restricts drivers use of:
- Using a hand held phone
- Texting or emailing
- using electronic devices like laptop computers, video games, cameras, video entertainment displays and programming portable audio players (e.g., MP3 players)
- entering information on GPS units
- reading printed materials in the vehicle
- writing, printing or sketching, and
- personal grooming
People have been asking if they are allowed to check their phones or do other things at red lights in Alberta. The answer to this is no. A police officer may write you a ticket if you are doing any of the above things at a red light. Another common question people have asked is how does this relate to pets? This is where the grey area of the law comes into play.
On the website for the law it states: “In situations where the driver becomes too involved with their pet, police could reasonably argue that the distraction is comparable to the specifically banned activities of reading, writing and grooming and lay a charge”. Meaning that if you are doing anything behind the wheel that the officer feels is comparable to the above banned things they may write you a ticket. In addition to that there is also an additional law already on the books that allows a police officer to lay a charge if anything occupies the front seat that could inter-fear with the drivers ability to control the vehicle or reach vehicle controls.
What does this mean to you? “It means that if a driver violates a new distracted driving provision and an existing provision in the traffic safety act it would be up to the discretion of the officer as to if one or both or multiple charges would apply”. In addition you could also face a driving carelessly charge with carries a $402.00 fine and 6 points on your license. It is also possible to be hit with a moving violation (any violation that occurs while the vehicle is moving- for example speeding) as opposed to a non moving violation (any violation that occurs while your vehicle is not moving- for example parking in a fire lane).
Meaning: all you people who let your small dogs ride on your lap are already breaking the law and they need to be secured in the back seat of your car for the duration of your trip. I recommend a pet seat belt, you can get these from any pet shop. I use one for my german Shepard and it works great. Plus it will keep them safer in the event of a car accident.
The following are not restricted but again officer discretion exists:
- using a cell phone in hands-free mode – this means the device is not held in the driver’s hand and is activated by voice or a single touch to the device
- using an earphone — if it is used in a hands-free or voice-activated manner
- drinking beverages, such as coffee, water or pop
- eating a snack
- talking with passengers
- listening to a portable audio player – as long as it is set up before you begin driving
- using the following:
- a GPS navigation system – as long as the system is affixed to the vehicle and programmed before you begin driving or the system is voice activated. You cannot hold the unit or manually enter information while driving
- a collision avoidance system
- a gauge, instrument, device or system that provides information about the vehicle’s systems or the vehicle’s location
- a dispatch system for transporting passengers
- a logistical transportation tracking system that tracks vehicle location, driver status or the delivery of goods for commercial purposes
- calling emergency services, such as 911 with a hand-held cell phone
- using 2-way radios or hand-held radios, such as those commonly referred to as CB (Citizen’s Band) radios, when escorting oversized vehicles, to contact one’s employer, or when participating in search, rescue and emergency management situations.
Minister of Transportation Luke Ouellette said the law will help reduce the number of collisions on Alberta’s roads. The law, carries a $172 fine, $150 fine plus a 15% Victim Surchage fee . I pulled up statistics from other cities to see how much change their has been in driver habits and collision reports and most cities report no change in the number of collisions on the road. So we’ll see if this law actually reduces the amount of collisions or people phoning and texting while they are driving or (more likely) if people just try and get creative and hide what they are doing behind the wheel.
I am a strong proponent of this law, but I think it needs a little bit of rewriting. It needs to be more specific. You either can do this activity or you cannot. You can drink coffee or you can’t drink coffee. Period. It is not uncommon for police officers to have some discretion, but I think that this law leaves room for too much discretion, it needs to be firmed up. The argument here that has been presented by officials is that officers already have discretionary privilege Re: traffic violations under Alberta law so if you are being extremely unsafe they can already ticket you. My instinct is then to ask why we need yet another law that is discretionary in addition to the other laws. Ban what needs to be banned and nab people who are violating other traffic laws as you see fit.
Hopefully, once it’s rolled out and problems start emerging the law itself will be amended. Or maybe I am wrong and everything will be just fine. Police have already said they won’t be jumping through hoops to catch you texting or doing other things you shouldn’t behind the wheel. “We’re not going to be jumping out from behind a tree to issue a ticket to someone glancing at a map at a stop sign,” said Sgt. Michael Watterston. “However, if we see someone obviously flouting the law, driving with their knees, reading a map and sending a text, then they can certainly expect a ticket.”
All assurances aside I know I will be picking radio station I like and sticking my bags in the back seat so as to remove any temptation I may have to want to do other things behind the wheel. I’ll admit I am terrible at red lights, glancing at my phone to check that text message, or change the song on my ipod. So I guess the deterrent part of the law is already working. I like my $172 just where it is thanks.
I should add one last thing. According to the Alberta website this new law also applies to cyclists.
Update: Via CBC news. RCMP have said NO GRACE for AB drivers : RCMP will have stations set up to enforce the new law. However, Calgary Police have said that most likely they will be issuing warnings for the first month except for in extreme cases. And in Edmonton Police have been told to use discretion and only hand out tickets when someone is blatantly distracted.
***Just a quick disclaimer, I’m not a lawyer***