Illegally distracted

Delivery company co-owner Dennis Worobetz has spent enough time on the road to know why the province wants to crack down on distracted drivers.

Delivery company co-owner Dennis Worobetz has spent enough time on the road to know why the province wants to crack down on distracted drivers.

Worobetz has watched as drivers happily text message away at a red light — and then keep on typing long after the light has turned green.

“If I had a ticket book, I could fill that ticket book in a couple of hours, I swear to God,” said the owner of Red Deer’s Convenience Delivery Service.

Despite his daily experience with bad drivers, Worobetz is not 100 per cent in favour of the government’s effort to turn to legislation.

Bill 16 would ban a number of activities while driving, such as texting, talking on cellphones or personal grooming.

“I think it is good in a sense. But then again it could turn into one of these cash cow situations where it’s just, ‘Let’s see how much money we can rake in on this.’

“Common sense really has to dictate, in my opinion, whether it should be a ticket or not.”

Worobetz’s drivers decide themselves whether to use hands-free phones or cellphones while taking delivery calls. Banning cellphone use would have little impact on business operations. However, he has heard talk of prohibiting hands-free devices as well. That would need to be looked at closely before going that route, he said.

“I think there is a lot of grey area out there that perhaps needs some more review before they put this to a vote.”

Mountain View County Reeve Al Kemmere spends many hours on the road and he uses his hands-free phone to catch up on phone meetings. He understands where the government is coming from on this issue.

“I’ve travelled this highway often enough, both in my present job and when I used to have my own truck on the highway, (that) I’ve seen some very bizarre things going on on the highway and some very unsafe practices.”

Kemmere said he would prefer that hands-free phones continue to be allowed, but admits they provide a mental distraction.

If hands-free were banned, drivers would just have to adjust. But if that is the case, more safe turnoffs or wider shoulders should be built to give drivers a safe place to pull off, especially on freeways such as Hwy 2.

RCMP spokeswoman Const. Sabrina Grunow said police welcome the initiative. “Any piece of legislation that can assist in reducing the number of collisions on our highways, obviously, is a step in the right direction.

“We have to consider the fact that we do see an increase in distracted driving, due to the usage of cellphones and text messaging.” Calls have come in reporting suspected drunk drivers where it turned out the person behind the wheel was preoccupied with some device.

“All it takes is a split second to be distracted to cause a collision or be involved in one,” she said.

Olds-Didsbury-Three Hills MLA Richard Marz sat on the all-party committee that looked at a ban on driving while talking on a cellphone several two years ago. That private member’s bill didn’t get to a vote because after consulting with police forces and municipalities, it was decided other distractions also needed to be addressed.

“We talked to people in the trucking industry who had some pretty interesting stories to tell,” he said.

Marz said the proposed legislation would not ding drivers with demerit points, a move he agrees with. The government wants to convince drivers to improve and going to demerits could lead to lengthy and costly court challenges.

Transportation Minister Luke Ouellette introduced Bill 16 in the legislature this week. Marz said that gives government the summer to hear from affected Albertans before the bill is debated in the fall. He expects some will say the government hasn’t gone far enough and others will say it’s gone too far.

Marz said he believes the government got the bill pretty close to right and it’s more comprehensive than other provinces. The legislation would allow hands-free phones and using cellphones in emergency situations while driving.

The legislation would prohibit while driving:

• Holding, viewing or manipulating hand-held devices like cellphones, Blackberrys and similar gadgets

• Using a CB radio unless for commercial or search and rescue purposes

• Manually typing or putting information into devices such as GPS or audio players

• Activation of video display screen within sight of the driver

• Reading, writing and grooming.

pcowley@bprda.wpengine.com

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