Alberta drivers may have to hang up, log off and tune in to the road in front of them under distracted driving legislation the government could enact this year.
Transport Minister Luke Ouellette told reporters this week that the province is crafting legislation targeting distractions behind the wheel and hinted it could come as early as this spring.
Paul Oss, a spokesperson for the ministry, said an exact timeline is hard to predict because they want to make sure they get the legislation right.
“We want to make sure that anything we go forward with will be effective and enforceable.”
Cpl. Don Murray, head of the St. Albert RCMP detachment’s traffic section, said he sees a lot of distracted driving and would welcome new legislation.
“It is very commonplace. Sometimes, it seems like every second vehicle that passes has someone with a cellphone up against their ear.”
Oss said Alberta is going to be getting unique legislation that won’t look like any of the bills passed by other provinces. He said the department wants a bill that can deal with more than just cellphones.
“Most of the other provinces have kind of done one-offs with just strictly cellphone bans and we are looking at the broader strategy, which is to look at the bigger picture of distracted driving.”
Oss said that includes taking a hard look at global positioning systems (GPS), cellphones, BlackBerries, laptops and all of the other items people use in their vehicles.
Hands-free devices also likely won’t be spared under the new legislation according to Oss.
“There is a sense that a hands-free device is safer. They really aren’t. The research that we have been looking at really suggests that.”
Part of the challenge in crafting new legislation is finding a way to incorporate hands-free technologies into the legislation that officers could actually use.
“The difficulty is how do you enforce that? How do you know when someone is talking on a hands-free device? They could just be talking to themselves.”
Murray said he is pleased the province is looking at hands-free devices because he doesn’t believe they are any safer than handheld phones.
“I don’t think it is the physical act of holding up a cellphone that causes the problem. It is the fact that their focus is on a conversation and not on the road.”
On St. Albert roads, Murray said he has seen every type of distracted driving possible including people doing two things other than driving at once.
“I saw one woman drive past me in downtown St. Albert with a cup of coffee in her right hand and a cellphone in her left hand,” he said. “The last place you should be multi-tasking is on the road behind the wheel.”
Alberta and New Brunswick are the only provinces left in the country without some form of cellphone ban, though many of the provinces with bans still allow hands-free cellphones.
Strathcona County passed a cellphone ban last year, but it only applies on local roads and not the many provincial highways that pass through the community.