Alberta has realized that a law for talking or texting while driving is only the beginning. With the approval of Bill 16 – Distracted Driving Legislation, Alberta becomes the fourth province to address this serious issue. Interestingly, their law applies to both vehicles and bicycles; this only leaves pedestrians with the responsibility to self monitor their ‘walking while distracted’ activities.

One story re-told numerous times by a Fire Fighter is how a young women plugged into her music device failed to hear the oncoming fire truck responding to a heart attack call. According to their requirements for that type of call, they were using the air horn, lights and siren; in spite of the need to arrive on scene as quickly as possible, the driver judiciously slowed through a school zone and thankfully was able to stop less than 12″ from the young woman as she stepped off the curb, blissfully unaware of the oncoming emergency vehicle. It must have been a really good song; I wonder if she considered it would be the last piece of music she’d hear on this earth.

With the advances in technology over the last two decades and the perceived need to be connected at all times at work, home and with friends, distractions are everywhere. In this age of multi-tasking, ultra-productivity and connectivity, returning driving to a primary activity is going to be a challenge.

Distractions behind the wheel extend far beyond the vilified hand-held device to include, eating, personal grooming (make-up for women and shaving for men), reading, dressing, writing, sketching, and searching for dropped items. While Alberta’s new legislation does not include eating while driving; it’s clear that distractions while driving can lead to deadly outcomes.

Many drivers are still chatting away on their phones with it propped between ear and shoulder or holding it with one hand while halfway paying attention the road with the other hand on the wheel. This scenario is made much worse when lighting a cigarette or searching a music device for a new song get added to the equation leaving driving to knees and elbows.

The message Alberta is sending to its residents is clear, “Keep your hands on the wheel and your eyes on the road.”

Will BC and other provinces follow suit? New Brunswick is already on their way by introducing a distracted driving bill in late November. With British Columbia having some of the toughest drinking and driving legislation in the country; I choose to believe that they won’t be far behind with introducing their own legislation for distracted driving.

The Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC) offers the following Tips for Avoiding Distractions While Driving :

  • Eat before driving so you won’t be tempted to juggle distracting snacks behind the wheel.
  • Pull over and park before using a cellphone or other hand-held electronic device.
  • Have a driving playlist on your MP3 player and start it playing before you set the car in motion. That way, you won’t be fumbling to find a good song while driving.
  • If something falls, leave it. Never reach for an object while driving, unless it is impeding with your ability to control the car; in which case, pull over and deal with it.
  • Deal with predictable distractions before hitting the road. Check the map, adjust the seat, the climate control and the radio, and familiarize yourself with the dashboard controls, before taking the car out of park.

While legislation cannot change peoples’ opinions about the level of danger involved by allowing distractions to overtake common sense when driving and biking (not to mention walking); it does raise the level of awareness and provides law enforcers opportunities to take action on unsafe behaviour behind the wheel and when cycling.