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Penalties should reflect danger

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  |  Posted: Saturday, Jul 12, 2014 06:00 am

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St. Albert motorists no doubt have noticed this scene recently: a fellow motorist pulls into traffic or zips through a turn lane, one hand on the steering wheel, and the other holding a cellphone up to his ear. Just as often we witness a peer sitting still at a green light, staring down at his crotch. Most people would assume the motorist is texting on a cellphone.

Alberta’s distracted driving law came into effect Sept. 1, 2011 and, for all intents and purposes, seems to have made little impact on those who insist on multi-tasking behind the wheel.

Last summer Transport Canada's National Collision Database for the years 2006 to 2010 revealed that the number of fatal collisions where distracted driving was cited as a factor have actually increased across the country, including Alberta, by 17 per cent. Note: data predates the Alberta law.

Other studies have shown distracted driving is commonly a factor in, depending on the study, anywhere from 30 to 80 per cent of motor vehicle collisions. And don’t just blame the teenage girls; according to the U of A in a 2011 study men outnumbered women by almost 10 per cent in phone use while driving. The largest proportion of offenders – male or female – were in the 35-to-44 age category and the majority of mobile users had completed post-secondary education.

It’s obvious distracted driving is not taboo, but appears to be an accepted activity among a certain group of people. And Ontario legislators are putting the brakes on it in the proper fashion. Premier Kathleen Wynne recently revealed more Ontarians die from distracted driving than impaired driving. “It’s a real problem and that’s why we’ll be re-introducing the legislation,” she said.

Ontario will likely resurrect a bill which called for three demerit points for distracted driving and boosted the fine to $1,000 from $280. Ontario found the small fine is apparently not discouraging motorists from texting and using cellphones, evidenced by the 235,000 distracted driving tickets it has issued over the past three years.

Local RCMP commanding officer Insp. Kevin Murray agrees distractions on the road are not needed. “Driving and road conditions change rapidly,” Murray told the Gazette Thursday. “Diverting your attention from the task of driving, for even a second, can have dire consequences for you, your passengers and those sharing the roadway with you. Stay focused.”

The penalties in Alberta for distracted driving are wholly inadequate, simply a $172 fine and no demerits. The ticket in St. Albert for not cleaning up after your dog on hiking trails is higher than that.

Distracted driving is not a public nuisance; it’s a public danger; and it should be treated as such. The current fine tells motorists that such activity that results in harm to or the deaths of other people is not really that serious.

The penalties for distracted driving, simply put, should reflect the severity of the behaviour involved. Alberta should give serious consideration to following Ontario's example by increasing the fine, adding demerit points and bumping them both for subsequent offences. If that doesn't get the attention of our distracted drivers it's hard to imagine what will.


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