Alberta would no longer be “Canada’s traffic-safety donkey” under long-delayed legislation that would tackle distracted driving.
The province’s Tory government called the plan “some of the most comprehensive distracted driving legislation in Canada.”
Bill 16, introduced April 14, would outlaw drivers’ use of handheld cell phones (hands-free OK), as well as PDAs and other handheld electronic communications devices. Texting would be included in forbidden activities.
Alberta’s distracted driving legislation includes a ban on “personal grooming” while driving. While frequently cited (by dubious lawmakers) during distracted driving debates in North America, this is one of the few measures to seriously propose such a ban.
“Drivers can be distracted behind the wheel for many reasons other than talking on their phone,” said MLA Art Johnston, who introduced the bill. “This legislation goes beyond a simple hand-held cellphone ban.”
Also prohibited for drivers would be non-commercial use of CB radios, writing, drawing, sketching and non-transportation-related video screen watching.
(Update) A day later, the government raised the possibility that enforcement might be secondary if the law is approved — meaning police need another reason to pull over drivers before issuing a citation.
Alberta had been criticized by safety groups and some legislators for dragging its feet on distracted driving legislation while other provinces took action.
The Calgary Sun editorialized in January: “The Stelmach government keeps dangling the carrot (of distracted driving laws), and then yanking it away. … Alberta … is set to become Canada’s traffic-safety donkey once again.” The paper cited fear of drops in popularity polls as one reason for the delays.
Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach cited a “busy agenda” as the reason no distracted driving legislation was proposed for 2009.
Strathcona County (east of capital Edmonton) has the province’s only law against driving while cell phoning and text messaging.
MLA Johnston, Calgary-Hays, is a former policeman who has been pushing for distracted driving for years. “I appreciate the great input of law enforcement and traffic safety stakeholders that has led to the introduction of this legislation,” he said. “This is a complex issue and I believe we have found a good balance between enforcement and safety.”