Driving is a complex task, involving many different skills. You must reason, judge, see, hear, be aware of and manage hazards while following the rules of the road. Focusing on anything other than driving is very dangerous. For instance, if you are using a cell phone, your full concentration is not on driving. Your eyes may not be on the road nor both hands on the wheel. This is a recipe for disaster, and a growing amount of data indicates it. Research shows that drivers using hand-held or hands-free cell phones are four to six times more likely to end up in a motor vehicle collision.
Cell phones top the list of distracted driving temptations for most Canadians. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has found that such distractions are linked with 25 to 30 per cent of collisions. Young drivers are at higher risk.
Statistics Canada research shows that a large number of these collisions involve drivers between 15 to 24 years of age. This may be because they are new to driving and have little experience. However, young people also text more often than any other age group.
The following websites have details on distracted driving laws in Canada's western provinces.
Government of British Columbia distracted driving
Government of Alberta
Distracted driving legislation (Bill 16)
Government of Saskatchewan
Driver distraction and inattention
Government of Manitoba
Manitoba's new cell phone law
Government of Canada
Current legislation for all provinces and territories
Canadian Automobile Association
Distracted driving laws in Canada, including fines and demerits
Distracted driving laws are in force across Canada. What does this mean? You are distracted at any time that your attention is not fully on driving — when you take your eyes off the road or your hands from the wheel. Details vary from province to province, but all (except for Nunavut) ban the use of hand-held cell phones.
Fines may be given for:
In Alberta, the distracted driving law also includes:
In an emergency, drivers are allowed to use a hand-held cell to call 911. Hands-free cell phones are allowed in all of Canada's provinces, except for new drivers in British Columbia's graduated licensing program (GLP) and Saskatchewan's graduated driver's licensing program.
Think about what might distract you when you drive. Talking to a friend in the passenger seat does not fall under the distracted driving law. Still, it may affect your concentration. Be aware of whether a conversation is too absorbing to take part in while driving.
Eating is another touchy area. Use common sense. A snack that is easy to eat may be acceptable, but a bowl of cereal in one hand and spoon in the other is not.
Get organized before you set out, so you do not have to focus on tasks other than driving once on the road. If you have young children, adjust car seats and tend to them when parked with the engine off. Talking, eating, drinking, smoking, and listening to music can all be distracting. Talking on a hands-free cell phone, adjusting vehicle or climate controls, or looking at the GPS can reduce your ability to navigate safely.
Distracted driving laws apply on all rural and urban roads. They include all motor vehicles and, in some provinces, bicycles.
Traffic fines vary from province to province to territory, and range from $167 to $280 in Canada's western provinces. Demerit points may also be added to your license in some areas. The fine may seem like a high price to pay for checking a text message. However, the cost of an accident, especially one that injures or kills, is much higher.
Time will tell if distracted driving laws slow the increase in cell phone use among drivers. Data suggests that many still choose to talk and text on cell phones while driving. In 2011, the Road Safety Monitor poll asked 1208 Canadians drivers if they had used a cell phone behind the wheel within the last seven days. About a third had. This is up from the response in 2001, with 20.5 per cent of drivers using their cell phone while driving. Why would the number increase with the recent push to raise awareness of distracted driving? One reason is that more Canadians are using cell phones. Having a law that allows peace officers to stop, charge, ticket and fine drivers may be the only way to get our attention.
More research and time are needed to see whether distracted driving laws across Canada lower the number of drivers using cell phones on the road.
Avoiding distracted driving is easy. These basic tips can help you keep your eyes on the road and thinking about the traffic around you.
The distracted driving law is intended to lower your risk of getting into a motor vehicle collision. Take it seriously and use common sense. Give the road your full attention to prevent a deadly accident.