ALBERTA

Alberta Distracted Driving Law: 2 Years Later Tickets Still Handed Out, But More Info Needed

09/03/2013 03:10 EDT
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It's been two years since the Alberta government introduced distracted driving legislation, and despite plenty of tickets being handed out, officials say there's still the need for more data.

Alberta's distracted driving laws came into effect at the beginning of Sept. 2011, and while the number of violations have been been substantial, the province needs more information before they can begin to make changes to, or recommendations on, the law, Sun News reports.

Alberta Justice spokeswoman Donna Babchishin told Sun News the province will continue to collect information about who gets ticketed, awareness studies, research from other provinces and surveys of cellphone use to identify issues and improvements withing the law - but until more information is obtained the laws will remain unchanged.

According to the Sun News, following the new legislation, police handed out 22,146 tickets in the first year. In the second year, 22,664 tickets were written.

Metro News reports Calgary police are handing out more tickets than ever, with officers passing down almost 18 per cent more fines this past year than the year before.

The $172 fines have gone to those using hand-held phones, text, email, cameras, video games, GPS, reading, writing, drawing and grooming - all which are illegal under the law, a law Alberta Justice calls the broadest in Canada.

Edmonton police, however, are seeing a decrease in the amount of distracted driving incidents, reports CTV News.

“Things are a little bit better,” Edmonton Police Service spokesperson, Patrycia Thenu, told CTV, “but unfortunately there are still many, many drivers who are putting their own lives at risk and other’s lives at risk by choosing to text while they drive.”

The Alberta government put out a series of awareness posters earlier this year with the slogan "Crotches Kill." The posters show drivers smiling down at their laps, their faces lit up from the glow of a cellphone out of sight.

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"Crotches Kill" Campaign

“Everywhere I drive I still see people on their cell phones pulling up at the lights or they are looking down at their lap while they are at the lights,” Edmonton driver Paul White told CTV, regarding the sneaky tactics drivers use to not get caught.

Calgary police Sgt. Michael Watterston told Metro Calgary the number of violations in Calgary could easily double if warnings were also considered in the tally.

"I surmise the numbers are equal in terms of those that got warnings — that’s at the officer’s discretion,” he said.

CBC News reports the number of fatal collisions caused by distractions is up 17 per cent in Canada over a five-year period, from 302 deaths to 352, according to data from Transport Canada's National Collision Database for the years 2006 to 2010.

However, CBC also notes these figures don't cover all police jurisdictions and may understate the numbers by a third.

Alberta Automobile Association spokesman Don Szarko told CTV people are becoming increasingly aware of the dangers of distracted driving -- similar to the campaign to promote seatbelt safety in the 1980s.

“It really took us about 10 to 15 years to achieve the high level of seatbelt compliance.”

Edmonton Police Chief Rod Knecht said in April he wants to see demerits added to the legislation, something Sarko says could be effective in changing driver behaviour.

“Sometimes it’s easy to pay the money and move on and not remember but, when you start knowing that you are chipping down some demerits and there is a chance you’ll lose your privilege of driving that could start to have some impact on people,” Sarko told CTV.

There has also been talk of giving police the right to seize a cellphone if the owner is caught distracted driving with it. Alberta Solicitor General Jonathan Denis said earlier this year he was "watching with interest" to see if a similar program works in B.C.