Distracted driving legislation passed in Alberta

The Alberta government has passed the most comprehensive distracted driving legislation in Canada.

Bill 16, the Traffic Safety (Distracted Driving) Amendment Act 2010, restricts the use of hand-held cell phones and activities like texting, reading, writing, personal grooming and puts restrictions on using other electronic devices while driving.

The new legislation will come into force upon proclamation, with an anticipated grace period and could take effect by the middle of 2011.

“This is a great day for traffic safety in our province,” said Luke Ouellette, Alberta’s minister of transportation. “This legislation is a bold approach and goes beyond restricting cell phones and deals with the broader issue of distracted driving. Our message is clear: Keep your hands on the wheel and your eyes on the road.”

This legislation permits the use of hands-free phones. Also, radio communication devices such as CB radios are allowed for commercial purposes and search and rescue services like 911. This legislation does not affect the official duties of emergency service personnel including law enforcement, fire and medical services.

The proposed fine for the distracted driving offence is $172 with no demerit points. Drivers engaged in any of the identified activities can be charged under this new law. A distracted driver could face additional charges if they commit other violations such as running a red light or making an improper lane change.

This legislation complements the current driving without due care and attention law – a serious offence with a fine of $402 and six demerit points.

In the coming months, the province will launch a public education and awareness campaign to help Albertans understand the details of the legislation. This will be coordinated with traffic safety stakeholders and law enforcement.

Examples of fines in other provinces include $167 in B.C. and three demerits; $280 in Saskatchewan and four demerits and $200 in Manitoba with no demerits.

The penalty in Ontario is $155 and no demerits while drivers in Quebec face fines of between $115 and $154 and three demerits.

The province said that international research shows that 20 to 30% of all collisions involve driver distraction and that goes way beyond just cell phone use.