He might have been a poster child for distracted driving in the past, but local MLA Ray Danyluk is turning over a new leaf, following the Alberta legislature’s Nov. 17 passing of distracted driving legislation.
“I look at myself and I probably am the epitome of the abuser. It’s just the way my life is,” says Danyluk of his use of cell phones while driving. But he notes “we all have been distracted while driving. That’s a given.” Fortunately for Danyluk, the bill still allows the use of hands free devices on the road.
The Alberta government has touted Bill 16 as the most comprehensive distracted driving legislation in Canada, since it bans not only talking on cell phones and texting while driving, but also other activities, such as reading, writing, sketching, watching televisions or computers or anything else with a screen, or personal grooming. CB radios are banned if they’re being used for recreational purposes, but GPS and MP3 players are allowed, so long as the GPS gives audio directions. However, it would be an offence under the legislation to program a GPS or a MP3 player while driving.
There will be a grace period to educate Albertans about the change, and police will start enforcement in mid-2011, said Danyluk. Those who are caught driving while distracted will receive a $172 fine, but no demerit points.
While he stood behind the legislation, Danyluk did have some reservations about how it would unfold. For one, he hopes the legislation does not inadvertently cause other types of accidents or more accidents, from people trying to hide their cell phone use or by pulling over spontaneously to answer a ringing phone.
“That’s one of the most dangerous things that happen on our highways,” he said of people stopping on highways.
Most of all, Danyluk stressed the role of education in preventing accidents. He also pointed to children as “the best educators of people,” saying that kids can and will point out if a driver is engaging in an activity that is taking their attention away from the road.
Barry Sallstrom, a regional traffic safety coordinator, noted one of the good things about the legislation is the fact it is comprehensive and addresses other distractions beyond cell phones. There are always going to be other distractions, such as dealing with young children in the vehicle, but this legislation addresses many of the common problems that can cause accidents, he said, noting that 20 to 30 per cent of collisions occur as a result of distracted driving.
He acknowledges there could be drivers who try to hide their cell phone use by holding the phone down on their laps to avoid getting caught, but says such people would be “clearly indicating their attitude of disrespect for other motorists and public safety.”
“Do you have the will power to ignore that call, text or email until you can pull over and park safely?” he asks, before sharing his final message: “Give yourself a break - relax and just drive.”