Driven to distraction – Alberta’s law packs punch

We’ve all seen it. That one driver who chooses to focus on their phone more than the road ahead of them.

We’ve all seen it. That one driver who chooses to focus on their phone more than the road ahead of them.

This type of action is not only irresponsible, but is also incredibly unsafe and could cost someone’s life.

Since the province’s distracted driving law, which previously carried a $172 fine, was rolled out in 2011, the roads are supposed to be much safer.

Now after four years, it was time to revisit the law and question whether it is working in getting the message across to drivers to change their habits.

Last week, before the fall session at the Legislature was brought to a close, Transportation Minister Brian Mason announced the government has made changes to the regulations in the Traffic Safety Act, hence strengthening the law.

As of Jan. 1st, law enforcement is now permitted to issue three demerit points along with a $287 fine for distracted driving. The new regulations apply to offences involving hand-held devices like cellphones and GPS devices, along with reading materials, food items and personal hygiene products.

“From September 2011 to March of this year, there were more than 87,000 convictions for distracted driving, and despite our best efforts, distracted driving remains a real danger, with convictions increasing year over year,” noted Mason during a press conference. “Given these numbers, we are following through on Albertans’ wishes for stronger penalties for distracted driving.”

Of the 87,000 convictions detailed by Mason, around 90% were for using hand-held devices while driving. According to government stats, from 2014 to 2015, male drivers made up two-thirds of all convictions. Young male drivers, in between ages 22 to 34 had the highest conviction rates.

Alberta RCMP Deputy Commissioner Marianne Ryan spoke on behalf of all police and emergency services within the province. “Don’t drive while distracted,” she said. “Distracted driving can be deadly, and although police will be enforcing distracted driving laws, all drivers can make Alberta’s roads safer.”

In theory, like all of our laws, the distracted driving law is supposed to work. It seems drivers were willing to just pay the fine and continue on with their habits, without seeing many repercussions.

Back in 2011, some naysayers warned the government that in other jurisdictions, where there is similar legislation, the distracted driving law might not be effective.

This begs the question, if the current law wasn’t working, how sure are we that a slightly tougher law with demerit points will?

A heftier penalty to distracted driving, in particular texting and driving, may wake up some drivers.

 

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