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Frequently Asked Questions

DISTRACTED DRIVING LEGISLATION (BILL 16)

1) Is this law now in effect?

Not yet. This legislation will come into force upon proclamation.  Before any tickets are issued, the province will be launching a public education and awareness campaign to help Albertans understand the details of the new legislation, what is permitted and how to comply with it, as well as information on when the law will be in effect.  This web site will be updated as more information becomes available.

2) What has to happen before the law takes effect?

There are several steps that must be completed before this law will take effect and police can start enforcing it.  These tasks include things like updating related regulations, developing and installing highway signage and very importantly - educating Albertans about the rules under the new law - all this takes time.

The province will launch a public education and awareness campaign to help Albertans understand the details of the new legislation, what is permitted and how to comply with it before any tickets are issued.

3) Did the Bill change since it was first introduced to when it was passed?

The Bill did not change but a few points were clarified. In addition to hands-free cell phone use, it was clarified that drivers may also use hands-free radio communication devices.  The Bill was also adjusted to clarify that commercial drivers and drivers involved in search and rescue may only use 2-way radio communication devices for specific work related purposes, or while participating in an emergency management situation.  Finally, the reading restriction was clarified to refer specifically to printed materials in the vehicle, such as books, newspapers and magazines.  The complete law can be viewed online by clicking here: Traffic Safety (Distracted Driving) Amendment Act, 2010.

4) How does this legislation compare with what other Canadian jurisdictions have done to deal with distracted driving?

Alberta has taken a leadership role to address this important issue of distracted driving.  Other jurisdictions have banned cell phones or electronic devices but there are many other activities that people do behind the wheel that take their hands off the wheel and their attention off the road – this legislation addresses those additional distractions.

5) Why is distracted driving such a growing concern?

Distracted driving is an issue all across North America and around the world. Many factors have contributed to this situation:
  • Tremendous technological advances over the last 20 years,
  • A perceived need to be connected to work and home at all times,
  • A perception that driving is an unproductive, second nature task, and
  • People trying to accomplish more in less time.

    As a result, too many drivers focus on secondary tasks while driving.

    6) Why was it important that Bill 16 be passed into law? Is distracted driving that much of an issue on Alberta's roads?

    Nowadays, there are just too many things competing for the driver's attention. To put this in perspective, international research shows that 20 to 30 percent of all collisions involve driver distraction and that goes way beyond just cell phone use. Clearly we have to take action.

    Traffic collisions impose enormous costs on our society and anything that we can do to improve safety provides tremendous benefits to all Albertans.

    Traffic safety is a complex issue and changing behaviors requires a comprehensive, long-term strategy. Effective legislation is an important component of our overall approach to traffic safety. Education and awareness also play a key role in our strategy.

    7) How does this legislation balance the need for safety with the realities of multi-tasking that occur in day-to-day driving?

    Sometimes people forget that when you're in your vehicle, your primary focus should be on driving. We seem to treat our vehicles like a second living room, or a couch on wheels, or even a mobile office. That has to change. It's all about traffic safety. Make no mistake: You cannot drive safely when you're distracted.

    The goal with Bill 16 was to have it be practical, effective and enforceable, and with this legislation we believe it strikes the right balance. It gives law enforcement some discretion to take action on unsafe driving behaviors in a reasonable manner. For example, if you are just taking a sip of your coffee or simply touching a button on your car stereo, you won't get a ticket. If you're putting on make-up, texting or playing on your laptop, you obviously are distracted so any of these activities would be considered an offense under the law.

    DETAILS - WHAT THE LAW COVERS AND WHAT IT DOESN'T

    8) What kinds of distractions will be covered under this legislation?

    This law takes a comprehensive, broad approach to the issue of distracted driving and goes beyond electronic devices. In addition to restrictions on talking on a hand-held cell phone, there will also be restrictions on:

    • texting/e-mailing;
    • using electronic devices like laptop computers, video games, cameras, video entertainment displays and programming portable audio players (e.g., MP3 players);
    • entering information on GPS units;
    • reading printed material (in the vehicle),
    • writing, printing or sketching,
    • personal grooming

    We are not talking about penalizing drivers for taking a sip of coffee, chatting with passengers or blowing their nose. We are talking about drivers who decide to put themselves and others at risk by watching movies, browsing for and downloading 'apps', apply makeup or shaving all while trying to navigate through traffic.

    9) Will there be any exemptions to this law?

    Yes. Drivers who talk on hands-free phones or hands-free radio communication devices won't violate the law. In addition, radio communications such as CB (Citizen's Band - 2 way) radios will be allowed for certain commercial purposes, to maintain contact with one's employer  and search and rescue services only. All drivers will be able to use hand-held devices to contact 911 emergency services and this law will not interfere with the official duties of emergency service personnel including enforcement, fire and medical services.

    10) What is the proposed fine for an offence?

    We are proposing a $172 fine for this offence. This amount includes a fine of $150 plus the 15 percent victims' surcharge. This fine is in keeping with the fines for other traffic violations.

    11) Are there demerit points proposed for this offence?

    No. It is felt that the dollar fine will encourage drivers to focus on driving. Drivers that exhibit what is deemed to be more serious or risky behaviors could be charged with 'driving carelessly' under the Traffic Safety Act. The penalty for the existing 'driving carelessly' offence carries six demerit points and a fine of $402.

    If a driver does commit a moving violation while engaged in one of these activities, or any other deemed as a distraction, they could receive two tickets - one for distracted driving, and one for the moving violation.

    12) Will there still be a driving 'without due care and attention' or 'driving carelessly' charge?

    Yes. The new law will complement the current law under the Traffic Safety Act - driving without due care and attention - or 'driving carelessly,' which will remain in effect. The penalty for the existing 'driving carelessly' offence is $402 and six demerit points. This charge will be considered for violations deemed more serious when associated with cell phone use or other distracting behaviors. This new law will provide another tool for law enforcement and the courts so they have flexibility in dealing with the complexities of distracted driving.

    13) Can I get a ticket if I am doing one of these activities as outlined in the law but have not made any errors in my driving?

    Yes. Drivers engaged in any of the identified activities can be charged, even if their driving performance appears unaffected.

    If a driver does commit a moving violation while engaged in one of these activities, or any other deemed as a distraction, they could receive two tickets - one for the distracted driving, and one for the moving violation.

    14) What happens if a driver commits a moving violation while distracted?

    It's possible to get two tickets. A driver who chooses to do things like send a text message or read a novel - things unrelated to driving - will be charged with "distracted driving." In the event that a distracted driver also commits a moving violation, such as running a red light, additional charges may be pursued.

    15) Does this law apply to drivers who are eating?

    Again, the intent with Bill 16 was to be practical, effective and enforceable.

    Drivers will still be able to have a snack while driving. However, the general distracted driving provision is discretionary to allow flexibility for law enforcement. In situations where a driver is, for example, holding a bowl of cereal in one hand and a spoon in the other, police could reasonably argue this activity is comparable to the specifically banned activities of reading, writing and grooming and lay a charge.

    16) Will I be able to have a coffee or a cigarette while driving?

    Drivers will still be able to drink coffee, water, pop etc. This is about being reasonable and practical.

    Also, they will be able to do things like eating, talking with passengers, smoking, or adjusting the vehicle controls. However, drivers must keep their focus on driving and following the rules of the road.

    17) Will I still be able to drive with my pet in the car?

    Yes, as long as the pet is not interfering with the actions of the driver.  However, the general distracted driving provision is discretionary to allow flexibility for law enforcement.  In situations where a driver becomes so involved with their pet, police could reasonably argue that the distraction is comparable to the specifically banned activities of reading, writing and grooming and lay a charge.   

    Also, existing legislation - Traffic Safety Act 115(2)(i) - allows police to charge a driver who permits anything, including a pet, to occupy the front seat of the vehicle such that it interferes with the driver's access to the vehicle controls and the safe operation of the vehicle. 

    If a driver violates both of these sections it would be up to the discretion of the officer as to if one or both charges would apply.

    For the safety of both pets and road users, it is best if pets are secured in an appropriate pet carrier. 

    18) What do you mean by grooming and attending to personal hygiene?

    This would apply to drivers who are doing things like flossing their teeth, putting on makeup, curling their hair, clipping their nails, or shaving.

    19) Can I use a hands-free phone or radio communication device?

    Yes.  Drivers can still use cell phones or radio communication devices but only if they use them in a hands-free or voice-activated manner. 

    It is important that this legislation be enforceable and our law enforcement partners expressed concerns around the enforceability of a hands-free ban.  It’s hard to identify someone who is using a hands-free device - No jurisdiction in Canada bans all drivers from using hands-free cell phones.

    Also, keep in mind that a person engaged in any type of unsafe driving behaviour while talking on a hands-free device can still be charged under the existing ”driving carelessly” law.  Again, this is an additional tool for law enforcement.

    Alberta Transportation will continue to reinforce the message that drivers should hang up altogether.  The bottom line is from a safety perspective; all drivers should put driving first and take care of other business when their vehicle is safely parked.

    20) Can I use an earphone?

    Yes. You can use an earphone if it is used in a hands-free or voice-activated manner.

    21) Can I still use my Personal Digital Assistant (PDA) such as a Blackberry or an iPhone?

    No. All hand-held electronic devices are covered under this legislation. A PDA can only be used if it has a telephone function - then it can be used in hands-free mode to make phone calls only.

    22) Can I be charged if I am just holding my cell phone or PDA?

    Yes. Drivers who are holding a cell phone or PDA, even if the phone is powered off, can be charged. This applies to ALL hand-held electronic devices, such as laptop computers, video games, cameras, video entertainment displays and portable audio devices, like MP3 players.

    23) Can I listen to my MP3 player or use my GPS navigation system?

    Yes, but they must be programmed or set up in advance of driving so that drivers are not manually typing or inputting information while driving.  If the portable audio device, such as an MP3 player or iPod is connected to the vehicle sound system drivers may use the vehicle controls to operate the portable audio device.  GPS units must be secured to the vehicle and may only be used in a hands-free mode while driving.

    24) Will dispatch computers like those used in taxicabs or delivery trucks be allowed?

    Drivers who use dispatch systems for the transport of passengers or logistical transportation tracking devices for commercial purposes can still have mobile data computers installed and activated in their vehicles.  All drivers should keep their focus on the road and as such, drivers should not type in information into these devices while driving.

    25) Will certified Amateur Radio operators be allowed to use 2-way radio communication devices?

    Government appreciates the role that amateur radio operators play in supporting emergency operations in Alberta.  We do not plan to interfere with the ability of trained and licensed operators to continue with their work in this area.  We will be considering the role of amateur radio operators as we move forward with developing the supporting regulations for the Traffic Safety (Distracted Driving) Amendment Act, 2010. 

    26) Why are hand-held CB radios exempt for commercial purposes and search and rescue services?

    This legislation is not intended to interfere with well-established commercial operations or search and rescue efforts. So where this type of communication is required to communicate with the driver's employer or when participating in some type of emergency management situation, use of hand-held CB radios will be allowed.

    This law is not about taking away tools for traffic safety. The use of hand-held CB radios to communicate extreme weather conditions or a hazard on the roadway, such as a collision, could fall under the "emergency" scenario category. Alberta Transportation recognizes that commercial drivers are professionals and anticipates that they will make good safety decisions when choosing to use public radio systems. As with all laws, enforcement officers ultimately have the responsibility to evaluate specific situations to determine if citizens are complying with the law.

    27) Will bicycle couriers be able to use hand-held 2-way radios?

    Drivers, including bicyclists, who are required by their employer to maintain 2-way radio communication will be permitted to use 2-way radios to contact their employer.

    28) Does this law apply to all roadways in the province?

    Yes, it would apply to all roads in both urban and rural areas.  The Traffic Safety Act uses the term highway to refer to any urban or rural street, road, parking lot, or alley, etc, where the public is normally permitted to drive, including adjacent sidewalks and ditches.

    29) Under what conditions can I make a phone call?

    To be compliant, drivers may only engage in the restricted activities when they are not driving on a highway or when the vehicle is legally parked.

    A highway refers to any street, road, parking lot, or alley, etc, where the public is normally permitted to drive, including adjacent sidewalks and ditches.

    30) Can I park on the shoulder of a highway to make a call?

    On provincial highways, outside of an urban area, section 43 of the Use of Highway and Rules of the Road Regulation applies and vehicles are not permitted to park on the shoulder of a provincial highway except in an emergency.  This is also for safety.  So if you as a driver have to make a phone call, do so at a rest area, or when you stop for gas or for a bathroom break.  Alternately, have your passenger make the call. 

    Provincial highways are typically numbered roadways (e.g., Highway 2), but they may also be known by other names (e.g., Queen Elizabeth II or the Trans-Canada Highway).

    Municipal parking bylaws vary from place to place.  You will need to consider the parking bylaws for that area before pulling over.

    31) Will I be able to send a text message or comb my hair when I am stopped at a red light?

    No. You cannot engage in distracting activities when stopped at a red light, delayed in traffic or waiting for a train. You are still driving and engaged in a traffic situation. To be compliant with the law drivers need to be legally parked.

    32) When can I make a call, send a text or put on makeup etc?

    To be compliant with this legislation, a driver's vehicle must be off the roadway or legally parked before engaging in any of the specified activities.

    33) To what types of vehicles will this law apply?

    It will apply to all vehicles as defined by the Traffic Safety Act.  So this will include vehicles like cars, motorcycles, motor homes, truck tractors, farm vehicles and bicycles.

    34) What types of emergency vehicles will be exempt?

    Under the Traffic Safety Act, an emergency vehicle includes, police service vehicles, fire response units, ambulances and gas disconnection units.  Drivers of emergency vehicles will be able to use hand-held communication devices or other electronic devices only when acting within the scope of their employment.

    ENFORCEMENT

    35) How difficult will it be to enforce the new provisions?

    This law was developed with input from our enforcement partners and we will continue to collaborate with them when it comes to educating the public about complying with this law.  We want something that’s effective and enforceable.  This is another tool to help law enforcement make our roads safer.

    36) How do you respond to individuals who say that this law is just a cash grab?

    Traffic safety is a complex issue and this is about changing driver attitudes and behaviors.  It’s also important to keep in mind that traffic collisions impose enormous costs on our society. Anything collected in fines is just a tiny fraction of these actual costs. The proposed fines for this law are also consistent with similar traffic safety infractions.

    Revenue generated from a surcharge on Criminal Code and Provincial Statute fines goes to the Alberta Victims of Crime Fund to provide programs and services to victims of crime.  The fund provides direct assistance in the form of a financial benefit to individual victims and grants to organizations that help crime victims.  The remaining funds go to the body responsible for providing the policing service that issued the violation.

    There is no single approach to address distracted driving – legislation across the country varies in its approach to fines and demerits.

    If you obey the law, you don't have to pay any fines. It's that simple.

    OTHER CONSIDERATIONS

    37) Will this law reduce the number of collisions?

    This law is fundamental to good driving practice and an important part of our overall strategy to take action on this dangerous trend.  Safety is a choice.
    Since 90 percent of all collisions are due to driver error it’s crucial that we change driver attitudes and behaviours.

    We have a number of integrated initiatives underway through the Traffic Safety Plan.  Impacting collision frequency calls for ongoing coordinated activity by all traffic safety partners through strategic communication and education, community mobilization, targeted and strategic enforcement, and implementing engineering strategies – and of course, effective legislation.

    38) Who was consulted for the development of this law?

    This law is based on current research, consultations with Alberta law enforcement agencies and traffic safety stakeholders including the Alberta Motor Association, City of Edmonton Office of Traffic Safety, University of Alberta and University of Calgary. As well as the public's viewpoint, Alberta Justice and Attorney General and Alberta Solicitor General and Public Security expertise, and the experiences of national and international jurisdictions with related legislation. We also received positive feedback on Bill 16 from Albertans during the summer of 2010.

    39) Is there public support for this law?

    Yes, there is tremendous public support for a distracted driving law in Alberta. Between April 14-when Bill 16 was introduced-and October 2010, Alberta Transportation, Transportation Safety Services Division received several hundred letters, e-mails and phone calls regarding Bill 16. Of the people who indicated support, 72 percent were in favor of the bill. The Bill 16 page on the Alberta Transportation website has received more than 7000 hits since April, which indicates there was significant interest in this Bill.

    Hand-Held Cell Phone Legislation in Canada

    Province  Fine Demerits Into Effect 
    British Columbia  $167 3 Demerits  February 2010* 
    Saskatchewan  $280 4 Demerits January 2010
    Manitoba  $200 No Demerits  July 2010
    Ontario  $155 No Demerits October 2009*
    Quebec  $115-$154 3 Demerits April 2008
    Newfoundland and Labrador  $100-$400 currently ($45-$180 originally) 4 Demerits April 2003
    PEI  $250-$400 3 Demerits January 2010
    Nova Scotia

     $164 first offence
     $337 third/subsequent offences

    No Demerits April 2008
    New Brunswick and Yukon     Currently studying
    Nunavut and Northwest Territories     Nothing at this time
    *In addition to banning hand-held communication devices, BC and Ontario also ban the use of hand-held electronic entertainment devices while driving.
  • BC and Saskatchewan prohibit GDL drivers from using both hand-held and hands-free devices.
  • No Canadian jurisdiction bans ALL drivers from using hands-free cell phones while driving.
  •       Last updated November 18, 2010