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Distracted Driving in Alberta

Cartoon of a Calgary distracted driver texting


For many people, distracted driving is synonymous with using your cell phone/smartphone while driving. However, it should come as no surprise to learn that the term “distracted driving” refers to a wide range of activities that a driver should not be engaging in behind the wheel. These activities include:

– Using electronic devices such as laptop computers, video games, and cameras

– Programming video entertainment displays and/or portable MP3 players

– Reading printed materials behind the wheel

– Writing, printing, or sketching

– Personal grooming such as brushing your teeth, putting on make-up, or shaving[1]

Over our many years fighting Calgary traffic tickets, we have seen countless distracted driving infractions presented in traffic court. Lots of these have involved the obvious texting-while-driving or talking-while-driving violations, but we have also seen lots of cases where the defendants legitimately had no idea that they were breaking the law.

In this blog post, we’re looking at the lesser known activities that qualify as distracted driving in Alberta and the penalty for getting caught doing them behind the wheel.

Distracted Driving Violations in Calgary’s Traffic Court

A while back, we sat in on a traffic court case where a man was defending himself against a distracted driving ticket. The motorcyclist had been sitting at a red light and decided to take that time to use his phone’s “selfie” function to check his teeth for any leftovers his latest meal.

This defendant’s argument was that he was sitting at a light which had just turned red and so it was therefore going to remain red long enough for him to make sure his teeth were totally clean. He also claimed that he was always 100% aware of what was going on around him and that his focus was always on the road.

What this man did not realize was that distracted driving legislation is still in effect at red lights and encompasses such things as using a camera to check your teeth for crumbs. In addition, he failed to realize that even if he thought he was fully aware of what was happening around him, the mere act of using the selfie function is enough to divert his attention from his surroundings.

Needless to say, the courts were not swayed by his defense and upheld his ticket and demerits. He also received a very stern warning.

Other activities that could get you a distracted driving citation include the above-mentioned list, but the Traffic Safety Act allows law enforcement to use their discretion when ticketing drivers who:

– Permit any person, animal or thing to occupy the front seat of the vehicle in such a manner so as to impede the driver in the free and uninterrupted access to and use of the steering wheel, brakes and other equipment required to be used for the safe operation of the vehicle

– Permit any person, animal or thing in the vehicle to cause any obstruction to the driver’s clear vision in any direction

… In other words, the police can also ticket you for driving with your pet, child, fast food meal, etc. in your lap if they believe it is distracting you from responsibly operating your motor vehicle.

Alberta Distracted Driving Legislation vs. Other Provinces

In the province of Alberta, drivers who are caught driving while distracted receive a standard $287 fine and 3 demerit points. Yet while this may seem a bit heavy to some Albertan drivers, it’s a “slap on the wrist” when compared to provinces like Ontario and Manitoba.

In Ontario, drivers who are caught distracted driving for the first time face a potential $1000 fine, 3 demerit points, and a 3-day license suspension. Further, should that same driver be caught a second and/or third time within five years, their punishment increases – fines double and triple (respectively), the demerit points double, and license suspensions increase to 7 days with a second conviction and 30 days with the third.

In Manitoba, the legal consequences for distracted driving include a nearly $700 fine and a 3-day license suspension.

Will Alberta’s Distracted Driving Laws Get Tougher?

It’s worth noting that Alberta’s distracted driving laws may (and no doubt someday will) get tougher. A recent news story from Global News Calgary suggested that many Albertan drivers would be in favour of tighter laws around unsafe, distracted driving[2]. However, there has been no sign from our provincial government or Alberta Transportation that they’re actively looking to make these laws stricter… yet.

Whether or not you support the distracted driving laws in Alberta as they currently stand, there is a very good reason they exist – drivers are proven to be 23 times more likely to be in a car crash or near crash when texting, and 4-5 times more likely when talking on the phone[3]. Add to that the fact that distracted driving contributes to 8 out of every 10 collisions on Canadian roads and we can understand why distracted driving legislation is in place[4].

Have you received a distracted ticket that needs a good defender? Or have some questions about traffic tickets and/or Alberta’s distracted driving laws?  Then get in touch with us and let our decades of experience defending Calgary traffic tickets work for you.





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