Story # 1 – Distracted driving legislation seen as ineffective
By Otisha Sousa and Chance Skauge
Calgarians say that the recently introduced Distracted Driving legislation is more of a “joke” than an effective way to stop people from dangerously using electronic devices behind the wheel.
26-year-old graphic designer Jason Lavoie is among many who exhibit doubts. “Is it a cash grab to get the guy changing his songs at a red light, or a legit attempt to prosecute the idiot swerving on the road texting?”
A recent survey conducted at SAIT Polytechnic shows that Calgarians aren’t taking the laws seriously, though many agree that the laws are in place to save lives.
Out of those surveyed, 68% still text, 72% talk on the phone, 68% use electronics, 8% read printed materials and 16% percent groom – all while driving. 68% admitted their habits have not changed since the law has been set in place.
Those surveyed expressed a concern with the enforceability of the new law, the lack of information provided on what is included under the new law as distracted driving, and a concern that the Calgary police service will be handing tickets out for distracted driving, even if what drivers are doing isn’t distracted at all.
Casey Flesh-hacker, 19-year-old home installer, was pulled over last week for taking a sip of water from a bottle that was according to Calgary police “Impeding his view of the roadway”.
“They pulled me over to issue a warning, I thought it was pointless.” said Flesh-hacker.
Of those surveyed, 64% are concerned that the law is too “vague” and that they weren’t provided enough information on what exactly falls under Distracted Driving.
“I’m confused as to exactly what Distracted Driving is,” said Emily Colluney, Travel and Tourism student at SAIT “does it deal with just electronics or can I eat, drink coffee, change the volume on my radio?”
A document on Alberta Transportation’s website’s frequently asked questions section notes that “drinking beverages, such as coffee, water or pop” along with “eating a snack” are allowed while driving.
However, the document states that the final decision of whether to slap a fine on a driver or not lies with local law enforcement. “We can certainly use our discretion,” said Constable Jim Lebedeff of the Calgary Police Service’s Traffic Education Unit, who has personally handed out a number of warnings and tickets.
“We don’t want people to get hurt or killed when they should be concentrating on their driving,” said Lebedeff, “driving is definitely a full time job.”
Brendin Townsend, 19-year-old shop hand, expressed a concern with the validity of the Calgary Police Service’s warnings.
“A friend of mine was pulled over and given a warning about texting and driving,” said Townsend. “he had actually left his phone at work, and was driving standard.”
The fine for the offence is $172, made up of a fine of $150 plus the 15 percent victims’ surcharge. There are no demerit points for this offence.
Drivers seen taking part in more serious or risky behaviors could be charged with ‘driving carelessly’ under the Traffic Safety Act, which carries a fine of $402 plus six demerit points.
“If they’re going to ban talking on the phone and driving, they need to ban talking to your passengers as well.” said Townsend.
For more information about the distracted driving laws, go to http://www.saferoads.alberta.ca.