Alberta MLA wants to beef up distracted driving penalty

EDMONTON – A $172 fine is simply not a strong enough deterrent to change driving habits, says Calgary-East MLA Moe Amery.

The Progressive Conservative MLA says he decided to propose tougher distracted driving legislation after hearing from many of his constituents.

“The driving force behind this bill was the many, many, many phone calls that I have received from my constituents saying that we need to do something about phone users while driving,” Amery explains.

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The current penalty – a $172 fine – was introduced September 2011.

“I feel that the penalty that we have right now … is not a strong enough of a deterrent to make people think twice while using the phone when they’re driving,” he adds.

Amery says he looked at legislation across the country and would like to see Alberta adopt a $250 fine and three demerit points for distracted driving.

“I drive a lot in Edmonton and Calgary… and I see a lot of people focusing and concentrating on the phone instead of the road.”

Amery says he’s spoken with law enforcement officials and they agree the law needs stronger teeth when it comes to enforcement.

READ MORE: Alberta’s distracted driving legislation not changing driver habits: RCMP 

“I’ve talked to many, many officers and they’ve said we need something stiffer than the $172 … We’re in Alberta, you know, people are working, people are making good money, good wages, so $172 isn’t that strong of a fine.”

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Bill 204, the Traffic Safety (Distracted Driving Demerit) Amendment Act, passed first reading Dec. 4 but will likely be debated in the spring sitting.

“I’ve got a lot of support from my constituents and I’ve got a lot of support from other people calling me and saying ‘it’s about time.’”

“It’s probably as big an issue as it ever has been,” says Scott Wilson with the Alberta Motor Association, “and it probably is getting a little bit worse.”

The AMA has not yet called for stiffer distracted driving penalties and describes Alberta’s current legislation as “quite comprehensive.”

Wilson says, compared to other Canadian jurisdictions, Alberta’s law is somewhere in the middle.

“There are some provinces that have lower penalties in terms of the financial penalty, there are others in the country that have fairly high penalties, and some that are currently looking at increasing their penalties to quite a high amount. And, of course, we don’t have demerits currently, whereas some of the other provinces do.”

Starting Feb. 1, 2014, Nova Scotia will increase fines and add demerit points for drivers who use hand-held cell phones.

Wilson isn’t convinced stiffening the penalties in Alberta is the right approach at this time.

“It’s been … three years now that the law has been in place and there’s still a bit of time in terms of making sure we have the right amount of enforcement out there, make sure we have the right amount of education and awareness around the issue, there’s still some confusion about what the law does and doesn’t cover.”

“You can’t just go out there and change fines and expect things to change overnight,” adds Wilson.

Bill 204: Traffic Safety (Distracted Driving Demerit) Amendment Act

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