EDMONTON — Alberta drivers talking on cellphones or texting behind the wheel face fines starting Sept. 1.
Transportation Minister Luke Ouellette says the province’s distracted driving legislation will also ban behaviour such as watching DVDs, putting on makeup or combing hair.
“The time is ripe for Alberta,” Ouellette said Wednesday at a news conference. He billed the legislation the most comprehensive of its kind in the country.
“We’ve brought most of our stats down on collisions, and now we’re taking that a step further to keep bringing them down.”
Alberta is the last province to bring in distracted driving legislation.
Ouellette said the province won’t be draconian or nitpicky, but added that anything that takes a driver’s hands off the wheel is subject to a $172 fine.
“If you’re having a bite of a chocolate bar we don’t want a policeman stopping you and giving you a ticket,” he said.
“But if you’ve got a Quarter Pounder or a double Quarter Pounder in front of your face and you’re driving with your knees, you deserve to get a ticket.”
Ouellette said there won’t be any demerits applied to a driver’s licence because that would be too severe.
“At this point in time we believe this is the right way to go. We believe it’s the right penalty for the right offence.”
The law, passed by the legislature last November, has been criticized by some safety advocates for not banning hands-free cellphone driving as well.
Ouellette acknowledged those concerns, but said the law has to balance safety with practicality and can still be amended in the future.
“There’s no other jurisdiction in Canada that’s gone that far (and) we didn’t believe we wanted to go that far all at one time,” he said.
“(But) we’ll follow that up with statistics and stuff and then decide if we have to go further or not at a later date.”
High-profile advocates, including emergency room doctor Louis Francescutti, have called for a ban on all distracting devices.
Francescutti has said the law will effectively increase carnage on the roads, because it sends a message to youth that hands-free driving is OK and will prompt more drivers to make the switch.
The Alberta Motor Association has applauded the legislation. It agrees that it balances concerns in a province where many drivers routinely travel great distances for work or recreation and need to stay in touch.
The law will allow hand-held devices when needed for work such as truck drivers using dispatch screens and emergency services workers.
Ouellette said the law will apply not only to when a car is in motion, but when it’s stopped and the driver is waiting to proceed.