Cpl. Al Nickolson knows the dangers distracted drivers in Alberta present to motorist safety.
Patrolling the QE2 between Red Deer and Didsbury, the veteran officer with the Innisfail Integrated Traffic Services unit sees astonishingly careless behaviour behind the wheel on a weekly-basis.
“I’ve was on the highway, heading to a collision scene, I’ve got my lights and sirens on and the guy in front of me is staying in his lane,” Nickolson said at the Safe Communities Central Alberta luncheon on Wednesday afternoon.
“When I finally get by him I can see he’s on his cellphone, he’s off in another world.”
Nickolson was at the event to address questions regarding the enforcement of Bill 16, a distracted driving law set to take effect in Alberta in the fall.
He also told some tales of the bad driving habits he’s witnessed on the job, such as “driving by braille,” as he calls it.
“Driving by braille is when you see people coasting left and right in their lane, slowing down and speeding up, and what’s going on is they’re relying on the rumble strips to help them drive a straight line while they’re texting,” Nickolson said.
Bill 16 will allow Alberta law enforcement officers to issue a $172 fine to distracted drivers, and the legislation will extend beyond the use of hand-held cellphones to any behaviour the officer deems distracting while driving — personal grooming, texting, reading maps or newspapers, or entering information into a GPS or MP3 device.
Nickolson said the new legislation will be easier to enforce than the current recourse of charging a driver with careless driving — a $402 fine and six demerits off the driver’s license — which requires the officer to look into the offender’s driving record for a pattern of recklessness.
Don Szarko from the AMA in Edmonton spoke at Wednesday’s event and said the legislation is a great first step in preventing collisions on Alberta’s roads; and motorists will be given plenty of warning about the new distracted driving law.
The AMA has already begun to distribute information on Bill 16 via print and Internet campaigns announcing “The Law is Coming,” he said.
“The earliest we’re going to see legislation passed is probably September or fall sometime,” Szarko said.
“I think the Province wants to give people the opportunity to understand the law.”
Szarko said polls conducted by the AMA suggest 74 per cent of Albertans are in favour banning cellphone use behind the wheel, and 65 per cent believe the law should be extended to cover all other forms of distracted driving.
“The government has pretty strong support for this legislation, we’re on pretty solid ground,” Szarko said.
He added public opinion surveys conducted in Alberta found drivers ranked personal grooming, eating, texting, and reading maps while driving as more dangerous than hand-held cell phone use.
“We all know what’s wrong, but we’ll do it until someone tells us it’s against the law,” Szarko said.
“Maybe we’ll get some ah-ha moments, Albertans spend a lot of time behind the wheel.
Richard Hornby, Safe Communities Central Alberta’s executive director said distracted driving has been a concern for his organization’s members for some time now, and Bill 16 can only make Red Deer’s roads safer.
“Whether you’re distracted, or drinking, or sleep deprived, you need to get off the road,” Hornby said.
Hornby said he hopes the new distracted driving law will be a catalyst, shifting “the culture, which currently doesn’t exist in Alberta, that says you wouldn’t even think of picking up your cellphone behind the wheel.”
Morgan Anthony with Students for Cellphone-Free Driving, said Bill 16 is important in preventing the estimated 100 deaths attributed to distracted driving in Alberta, each year; but also hopes legislation will eventually ban the use hands-free and Bluetooth devices behind the wheel.
“Studies have shown they are just as dangerous as hand-held cellphone use while driving,” Anthony said.
“We’d need to get rid of all cellphone use and distractions while driving.”