Alberta: Distracted driving news

Last updated: February 15, 2014
In Edmonton, police handed out 5,200 distracted driving tickets in 2013. That’s an increase of about 13 percent from 2012′s 4,613 citations. 2013 was the second full year under the province’s distracted driving law.

alberta flag image for distracted driving info pageAlberta drivers overwhelmingly support tougher penalties for those who drive distracted, according to a January 2014 survey. The Alberta Motor Association reports almost 8 in 10 of those surveyed backed the addition of 2 demerit points to the current $172 fine. Six out of 10 said distracted driving enforcement was lacking in the province.

Alberta’s premier looks to be moving in the direction of demerit points for the offense of distracted driving. Premier Alison Redford told the Calgary Sun she was “not adverse” to demerit points vs. an offender’s license and/or an increase in the original $172 fine for using handheld cell phones or texting while driving. Redford told her attorney general in mid-December to poll province police chiefs, who previously endorsed demerit points for distracted drivers (below). “We’re not going to be cowed by the opposition who start going off and scaring people saying the government is trying to control their life,” Redford told the Sun.

Alberta’s transportation minister says the 2-year-old distracted driving law needs more teeth. Rick McIver told the media he was working toward stricter penalties. “We need to increase the compliance level and we are actually evaluating strategies to do that right now,” McIver said in late October 2013. Alberta’s police chiefs have been pushing for demerit points vs. the offender’s driver’s license. “Everybody’s still driving distracted,” one police chief said. The current fine is $172 with no points.

Alberta logged almost 23,000 convictions for distracted driving in the second year of its law. That’s about the same as in the first year. Convictions for 2013 numbered 22,664 with several weeks left until the anniversary date of Sept. 1, QMI reported (vs. 22,146 in year 1). The fine for texting and use of handheld cell phones remains $172 (first offense). Edmonton Police Chief Rod Knecht has called for demerits against the driver’s license, as is the case in some other provinces. Alberta’s distracted driving rules have been in effect since Sept. 1, 2011.

Edmonton police went undercover with officers posing as homeless men in order to catch drivers using their cell phones. In late July 2013, one casually dressed officer stood by the roadside with a handwritten cardboard sign that said: “Hello, I am a police officer, if you are on your cell phone right now, you are about to get a ticket.” The Calgary Sun wanted to know what readers thought. An online poll of more than 2,000 people showed almost 80 percent in favor of the tactic for busting distracted drivers.

Law officers handed out at least 14,000 distracted driving tickets province-wide in 2012, with police saying the problem is getting worse. “Nothing is working right now,” one police chief said. Almost all offenses involved texting or talking on handheld cell phones.

The Alberta Association of Chiefs of Police is pressing for the addition of license demerit points for distracted driving offenses. The group’s president, Edmonton police Chief Rod Knecht, told the Edmonton Journal: “Everyone’s sort of resumed their old bad habits and it’s attributed to the fact that all you’re doing is paying a ($172) fine.” The threat of license suspension should act as an effective deterrent, he said in December 2012.

Edmonton police say they wrote more than 4,384 distracted driving tickets in 2012 (as of mid-December). The vast majority were for use of handheld cell phones. A 24-hour sweep in early February 2013 yielded at least 118 distracted driving tickets.

In Calgary, police are averaging about 550 distracted driving tickets a month. 6,058 distracted driving tickets were handed out in the first 11 months of 2012. Most offenses involved texting and use of handheld cell phones, but some cited general distractions such as playing with pets, the Calgary Sun reports.

Grande Prairie law officers say they wrote 417 distracted driving tickets in 2012.

About 100 of Calgary’s electronic distracted driving tickets in the first nine months were for use of laptop computers, iPods and similar devices. (Statistics cover October 2011 to July 1, 2012.)

In Edmunton, police wrote 1,375 tickets over the first six months of the province’s new distracted driving laws. The vast majority were for use of handheld cell phones, although a handful also were written for GPS use, reading, grooming and general distraction, police figures show.

February saw increased enforcement of the handheld cell phone law, with Edmunton police writing 379 tickets for driving while using cell phones and texting. February was designated distracted driving month under the Alberta Traffic Safety Plan.

Alberta’s new distracted driving rules went into effect Sept. 1, 2011. The Alberta Motor Association estimates that 3,000 tickets were written in the law’s first four months. The fine for violations is $172.

Read about Alberta’s new distracted driving laws.

In Calgary, police have handed out 1,456 tickets under the distracted driving laws, they said at the end of January. The first three months of distracted driving enforcement yielded 950 tickets.

Calgary police said at year’s end that local drivers have returned to their old distracted driving habits.

The “new distracted driving law is a good addition to our overall strategy to keep Albertans safer while on the road,” province Minister of Transportation Luke Ouellette said just before enforcement of the new laws began. “We want all drivers to practice safe driving habits to ensure we all return home safely at the end of each day.”

In Edmonton, police reported 207 distracted driving tickets in September (the first month), 150 in October and at least 89 in November. Most tickets were for using a mobile phone while driving. In Calgary, the first month of distracted driving enforcement yielded 280 tickets and 150 warnings. The majority of tickets were for handheld cell phone use.

One of the first distracted driving tickets went to a commuter eating chow mein behind the wheel, the Edmonton Journal reported.

Alberta’s lawmakers approved the government’s distracted driving Bill 16 on Nov. 17, 2010. The new law bans handheld cell phones (hands-free OK) as well as PDAs and other handheld electronic communications devices. Texting will be banned. Also prohibited would be personal grooming, non-commercial use of CB radios, writing, drawing, sketching and use of certain video screens. Fine of $172, no demerits.

Transport Minister Luke Ouellette said June 22 while announcing the Sept. 1 start date: “This new law is the most comprehensive distracted driving law in the country. No other jurisdiction in Canada addresses such a wide range of driving distractions.”

Minister of Public Security Frank Oberle also weighed in: “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 RCMP in Alberta didn’t wait for the new provincial government law. It targeted distracted drivers in February 2011. Under current law, careless driving can bring fines of $402 and 6 demerits.

(View the full Canadian distracted driving news report.)

Calgary police chief Rick Hanson says his officers initially will enforce the distracted driving laws “with discretion”: “We’ll be communicating with media when we’re going to start enforcing it and I suspect the warnings will start right after (enactment), just to make people aware.”

Hanson says of the controversial report from the U.S. Highway Loss Data Institute showing distracted driving laws don’t work: “I can show you research that shows the Americans didn’t land on the moon in 1969, too.”

Enforcement of the law springing from Alberta’s Traffic Safety (Distracted Driving) Amendment Act has been put off again. MLA Ken Allred, St. Albert, unsuccessfully lobbied for the rules to take effect Jan. 1, 2011. “We’ve had enough discussion about it — education, if you want — over the last two years,” Allred said.

The province calls the new law “the most comprehensive distracted driving legislation in Canada.” Minister of Transportation Luke Ouellette said the law “is a bold approach and goes beyond restricting cell phones and deals with the broader issue of distracted driving.”

An Alberta Motor Association spokesman called the upcoming distracted driving law “a Christmas present for Albertans.” … A trade group for truckers who work in Alberta is seeking clarification on the rule regarding CB radios and mobile dispatching and routing terminals. Goverment officials reportedly admitted some aspects of the law affecting truckers were not thought through.

The fall debate over Bill 16 focused on whether hands-free phone use should be allowed at all. MLA Dave Taylor’s bid to amend the bill to remove that exemption failed. MLA Art Johnson, who introduced Bill 16, said the province should proceed without a total cell phone ban and revisit the issue: “We’ll be reviewing (hands-free) in the future and the way technology is evolving, this could change even next year.”

Alberta had been criticized by safety groups and some legislators for dragging its feet on distracted driving legislation. Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach said in December 2009 that he wanted to see the effects of texting bans in other provinces before acting. He cited a “busy agenda” as the reason it was not addressed that year. Calgary Police Chief Rick Hanson says distracted driving legislation is overdue.

In October 2010, Stelmach warned that license demerit points would be “the next step” if his government’s plan to stop distracted driving doesn’t work. The demerits would affect insurance premiums, although the current Bill 16 does not include those sanctions.

The Alberta Motor Association says its poll of province drivers indicated 75 percent were in favor of Bill 16, the distracted driving legislation to be debated in the fall. Almost 70 percent backed limits on the use of all cell phones, including hands-free.

The president of Canada’s Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons says the new Alberta law “is misguided. It’s dangerous and it’s going to kill more lives than it saves. (Legislators) should be ashamed of themselves.” Dr. Louis Francescutti says allowing cell phone use with hands-free devices gives drivers a false sense of security when in fact hands-free use is as dangerous as handheld cell phone use.

Strathcona County’s ban on texting and handheld cell phone use while driving began Sept. 1, 2009. The county bylaw was the first in Alberta. The activities are outlawed on country roads, not those policed by the province. Fines run from $100 to $200. The ban on text messaging and handheld cell phone use was approved in May. Alberta’s government is developing similar legislation. (Strathcona County is east of Edmonton, with a population of more than 80,000.)

Editorials, opinion:
Alberta: “For some reason — some suggest it’s fear of sliding further down the political popularity poll — 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.” Michael Platt in the Calgary Sun (Jan. 19, 2010)

Comments

  1. Thank god it’s time we start saving lives – yes I’m guilty of texting and talking on my cell phone.

  2. David Drysdale says:

    I have no trouble with this or any other law that should save someones life. What I don’t understand is how and why this law did not address the people who drive and wear ear phones with stereo going and not hearing the police, ambulance or fire truck coming up on them,

  3. Kent Neigum says:

    I’m Director of Health & Safety for a large oil hauling company in Alberta. The law states hands-free is still ok… but it is far from ok! Hands free devices still create a large factor of safety. The outside world is still distracting the person behind the wheel. No driver should have outside interference while “on duty”/driving. I know the projectary for 2014 is to have Canada having the safest roads in the world. so lets not prohibit one thing thats distracting us, but allow the next.

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