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Responsible driving up to drivers

With the province's new distracted driving law set to come into effect this summer, West Central Alberta drivers who prefer to keep less than their entire attention on the road will soon have some big choices to make.

With the province's new distracted driving law set to come into effect this summer, West Central Alberta drivers who prefer to keep less than their entire attention on the road will soon have some big choices to make.

Specifically, those motorists will need to decide once and for all whether their bad driving habits are really worth the risk to themselves and others.

The Alberta Distracted Driving law makes it unlawful to operate a vehicle while using a hand-held cellphone, texting or e-mailing, using other electronic devices such as laptop computers, video games, cameras, video entertainment displays, entering information into GSP units, reading, writing, printing or sketching, or personal grooming.

Drivers will still be able to use a hands-free cellphones, as well as hand-held citizen's band (CB) or two-way radios when escorting oversized vehicles, to contact one's employer, or when participating in search, rescue and emergency management situations.

The law applies to all vehicles defined under the Traffic Safety Act, including bicycles, and applies to roadways in both urban and rural areas. Violators face fines of $172.

“This legislation gives law enforcement agencies in Alberta an additional tool to help make our roads safer,” said Frank Oberle, solicitor general and minister of public security. “We are sending an extremely strong traffic safety message to motorists across the province: When you're in your vehicle, your focus must be on driving.”

The province says about 30 per cent of all motor vehicle accidents involve distracted driving, with distracted drivers being three times more likely to be involved in a collision than drivers who focus their attention solely on the road.

Despite the government's hope that this new legislation, and specifically the fairly hefty $172 fines, will prompt more drivers to start focusing their whole attention on the road, the chances are the message will hit home with only some drivers.

For example, Alberta has a strict seatbelt law yet judging from recent police seatbelt awareness blitzes in the region, many, many drivers would rather risk fines than to wear their belts. No doubt the same will turn out to be true when it comes to distracted driving.

The bottom line is that the government can only do so much to make drivers act responsibly – in the end it will remain up to the drivers themselves to make the choice between being reckless and being safe.

And here's a question for the Stelmach government: If the goal is to send an “extremely strong traffic safety message”, as Minister Oberle claims, shouldn't drivers smoking cigarettes also be banned?