In the Fall of 2010, the Alberta legislature passed Bill 16, Canada’s most comprehensive “distracted driving” legislation. This legislation came into force on September 1, 2011. Companies should be acutely aware of the new restrictions placed on drivers so that their employment policies concerning use of company vehicles and cell phones are updated to conform to this new legislation. Employees need to be clearly advised of the new driving restrictions so that they do not violate this legislation while using company property.
Bill 16 bans not only the use of electronic devices such as hand-held cell phones, but also aims to reduce other driving distractions. Bill 16 prohibits the following activities while driving:
- using electronic devices including laptop computers, video games, cameras, DVD players and portable audio players (e.g., iPods);
- entering information on GPS units;
- reading printed material;
- writing, printing or sketching; and
- personal grooming (e.g. applying make-up, shaving, flossing teeth).
Radio communication for search and rescue services is still allowed, and the law does not apply to emergency service personnel including police, fire and medical services.
Drivers are able to talk on hands-free phones or hands-free radio communication devices, including Bluetooth devices. All drivers can also still use their hand-held cell phones to contact 911 services.
Drivers can drink water, coffee, etc., and are not prohibited from eating, talking with passengers, smoking, or adjusting vehicle controls such as the volume on their radio or music system, as long as they can do so while also maintaining their focus on driving safely. The Bill gives law enforcement discretion to determine whether additional activities, other than those specifically mentioned in the Bill, merit a charge. For example, while drivers can snack on a granola bar, they could be charged with distracted driving if attempting to eat a bowl of cereal with milk while driving.
In order to make a phone call, send a text message or program your GPS while in your vehicle without contravening the Act, you have to safely pull off the roadway and be legally parked.
The penalty for contravening the Act is a $172 fine. There are no demerit points for a conviction of this offence, however drivers should be aware that other charges under the Traffic Safety Act, such as careless driving, are still available. Drivers can be charged with both offences, and receive two tickets, if they exhibit more serious or risky behaviour while also performing one of the activities prohibited under Bill 16. The penalty for the current 'driving carelessly' offence is six demerit points and $402 fine.
The distracted driving legislation is an additional tool for law enforcement to encourage drivers to focus on driving and to limit distractions that driver’s may subject themselves to. Albertans should be aware that if they are engaged in any of the prohibited activities while driving, they can be charged, even if their driving is not affected.