It’s about time

The province has finally passed distracted driving legislation, and it turns out to be the most comprehensive of its kind in the nation.

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.

It’s high time the province took the issue seriously enough to clamp down on it legally – a routine trek across the City gives one plenty of opportunities to see drivers distracted by any number of things. For example, women putting on lipstick, using hairspray, putting on make-up; men fiddling with changing CDs, reading maps, combing their hair, or shoving down the last morsels of lunch before heading back to the office.

The point is that many drivers have grown increasingly comfortable with multi-tasking behind the wheel, but at the same time less aware of what’s really going on around them on the road. There’s an unbelievable feeling of false security when a person is driving, which actually demands one’s full attention — no matter how many years they’ve held a license.

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

We believe the RCMP will be kept extremely busy once this legislation kicks in – old habits are hard to break and this foolishness has gone on long enough.

There are all kinds of things that can go wrong when a person drives and tries to do anything else at the same time. A sudden jolt causes the coffee to spill, burning your hand and where does your attention go? Off the road and onto your scalded hand, of course. It not only endangers you, but others driving around you.

There is some lee-way in the law, including permitting 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.

Of course, this legislation does not affect the duties of emergency service personnel including law enforcement, fire and medical services.

As for the penalty, it’s not nearly high enough. For many folks, $172 (with no demerit points) is pretty much a slap on the wrist. It’s simply not preventative in nature. A $500 fine, or thereabouts, would be far more appropriate. The penalty needs to sting a bit more to alter people’s long-standing behaviour.

Now, it’s all about education. The province will launch a public awareness campaign to help Albertans understand the details of the legislation.

Let’s just hope they heed the message and change their attitudes about what is responsible driving behaviour.