Hang up and drive: Alberta adds demerits to fines for distracted driving

Alberta motorists caught driving while distracted will soon chalk up black marks on their licence as well as having to pay a fine.

EDMONTON — Alberta motorists caught driving while distracted will soon chalk up black marks on their licence as well as having to pay a fine.

Starting Jan. 1, any drivers caught not paying attention will get a $287 fine and three demerit points.

Transportation Minister Brian Mason says the message is not getting through and tougher sanctions are needed.

“People continue to drive while distracted on our roads and highways,” he said Thursday. “This is unacceptable and puts everyone on the road at risk.”

Mason said police forces across the province have said that while distracted driving went down after fines were introduced in 2011, “they have seen drivers slip back to their old behaviours.”

“Research shows that demerits are a more effective deterrent when paired with enforcement and education initiatives,” Mason said.

The move puts Alberta in line with other provinces, that already have demerit points for distracted driving, he said.

Government statistics show there have been 90,000 convictions since Alberta began levying fines on distracted drivers. The vast majority went to drivers who were operating vehicles while looking or operating hand-held devices.

On average, about two-thirds of those convicted are men. Young male drivers between 22 and 34 had the highest conviction rates.

There were 27,417 convictions for distracted driving in the 2014-15 year. That was a five per cent increase compared with the previous year.

Distracted driving includes using hand-held phones, texting, emailing, reading, writing, grooming or typing in GPS co-ordinates while behind the wheel.

Distracted driving does not include smoking, talking on a hands-free phone, chatting with passengers, drinking a coffee, eating a snack or listening to music that has already been pre-loaded.