Ask any pedestrian motorcyclist or cyclist what they most fear on the road and the chances are they will say drivers not concentrating on operating their vehicle or on their surroundings. Being distracted behind the wheel puts all road users at risk. An increased focus on road safety combined with the rise of smartphones as hubs for all personal communications has led to some distracting activities being outlawed across the country. The penalties for breaking these laws vary between provinces and range from fines demerit points revoked licenses and criminal convictions.
Distracted Driving in Alberta
In Alberta distracted driving lawsthat came into effect on the first day of 2016 specifically restricts drivers from the following activities:
- Using hand-held cell phones
- Using other electronic devices with a screen including MP3 players
- Texting or e-mailing
- Entering information into a GPS system
- Reading printed materials
- Personal grooming
The restrictions on cell-phone use texting and emailing also apply when your car is stationary at a red light and all of these activities are by themselves enough for you to be penalized if you are observed; it is not a requirement that you do anything dangerous or commit another offence while distracted.
Activities which are not restricted include various exceptions for emergency service personnel and haulage workers and also activities deemed not to be as distracting as those that are explicitly banned. However if the police can prove that you were sufficiently distracted by an activity that is not specifically mentioned in the law you can still be penalized . Allowing anything (such as a pet) into the front seat area of your vehicle that causes a distraction may also result in a penalty.
Drivers caught and penalized for distracted driving in Alberta can expect to receive a fine of $287 and three demerit points (click herefor a comprehensive description of the demerit system). If you commit another violation while distracted it can result in other penalties on top of the one for distracted driving. Other provinces such as British Colombia impose penalties comparable with Alberta.
Distracted driving affects insurance costs
The reason we’re seeing increased government intervention against distracted driving is due to the large numbers of minor and major road traffic accidents that are attributed to such behaviour. It is difficult to measure exactly how many since distraction is difficult to separate from other bad driving habits as the cause of an accident. Distraction itself goes far beyond the actions prohibited by law – who hasn’t seen a dangerous situation caused by a driver looking at the scene of another accident? It’s hard to disagree with the argument that cell phone use and other distractions are a major cause of road traffic accidents however. This in itself is enough to justify increasingly harsh penalties and convictions for distracted drivers.
However there are further arguments to suggest that harsh penalties are a way of shifting some of the cost of bad driving onto the bad drivers themselves. Another way of doing this is for insurance companies to increases premiums for those convicted of driving offences; if you are convicted you can expect your premiums to go up by 2-6% for a minor infraction 6-14% for a major infraction (including distracted driving) and 14-25% for a criminal conviction . This can escalate very quickly if you are convicted multiple times. So if you’re tempted to text while driving don’t. It could cost you financially and even your life.