Recently, false information has been circulating about supposed changes to Alberta’s distracted driving laws coming into effect on February 1. These rumours around new rules and stricter penalties are false. Alberta’s distracted driving laws and penalties are not changing at this time.
Alberta’s distracted driving law applies to all vehicles as defined by the Traffic Safety Act and all roads in Alberta. It restricts drivers from doing any of the following, even while stopped at red lights:
- using hand-held cell phones
- texting or e-mailing
- using electronic devices such as laptop computers, video games, cameras, video entertainment displays and programming portable audio players such as MP3 players
- entering information on GPS units
- reading printed materials in the vehicle
- writing, printing or sketching
- personal grooming such as brushing and flossing teeth, putting on makeup, curling hair, clipping nails or shaving
You can be charged with distracted driving, even if your driving performance does not appear to be affected. If you commit a moving violation while distracted, you could receive two tickets — one for distracted driving and one for the moving violation.
Under the Traffic Safety Act, police also have the discretion to lay charges if you are engaging in other activities while driving that impair your ability to drive safely.
For example, you can be charged with distracted driving if you are distracted by your pet while driving. Police can also charge you if you permit anything to:
- occupy the front seat of your vehicle that interferes with your access to the vehicle controls and the safe operation of the vehicle
- obstruct your clear vision in any direction
For the safety of pets, drivers and all road users, it is recommended that pets are secured in appropriate pet carriers.
The penalty for distracted driving in Alberta is a $300 fine and 3 demerit points.
Activities that are not specifically restricted under the law are:
- using a cell phone in hands-free mode – the device is not held in the driver’s hand and is activated by voice or a single touch to the device
- using an earphone – if it is used in a hands-free or voice-activated manner
- drinking beverages – coffee, water or pop
- eating a snack
- talking with passengers
- listening to a portable audio player – as long as it is set up before you begin driving
- calling emergency services such as 9-1-1 with a hand-held cell phone
- using two-way radios or hand-held radios (also known as CB radios) when a driver is required to remain in contact with one’s employer, such as when escorting oversized vehicles or when participating in search, rescue and emergency management situations
- permitting the display screen of the following:
- a GPS navigation system – as long as the system is affixed to the vehicle and programmed before you begin driving or the system is voice activated. You cannot hold the unit or manually enter information while driving
- a collision avoidance system
- a gauge, instrument, device or system that provides information about the vehicle’s systems or the vehicle’s location
- a dispatch system for transporting passengers
- a logistical transportation tracking system that tracks vehicle location, driver status or the delivery of goods for commercial purposes
- an alcohol ignition interlock device
Under the Traffic Safety Act, emergency vehicles include police service vehicles, fire response units, ambulances and gas disconnection units. Drivers of emergency vehicles are able to use hand-held communication devices or other electronic devices only when acting within the scope of their employment.
Tips to avoid distracted driving
During rush hour, you must keep track of thousands of items including traffic signals, other motorists, passengers and road conditions. Keeping your eyes on the road and staying alert can be difficult, but life-saving. Follow these tips to minimize distractions:
- Put your phone away – Only use your cellphone when your vehicle is parked in a safe place. If your phone rings while driving, have a passenger take the call or let it go to voicemail.
- Stay calm – Avoid emotional conversations with passengers as this can lead to distraction and unsafe behaviours. If you are using a hands-free cell to speak with someone, make sure they know you may need to hang up or interrupt the conversation suddenly to react to road conditions.
- Keep your hands on the wheel – Never take notes or read while driving. Park in a safe place before writing things down or referring to a map.
- Pull over as needed – If you need to attend to your kids or pets while driving, find a safe spot to park first.
- Plan ahead – Program electronics like music players, phones and GPS units before starting to drive. If you are in a rental car, make sure to find the radio stations you want to listen to before heading out.
- Distracted driving convictions in Alberta by offence date and Traffic Safety Act section
- Distracted driving convictions: select Alberta municipalities
- Distracted driving convictions in Alberta by age and gender
- Alberta hand-held electronic communication device use in light-duty vehicles 2007-2017
Connect with Traffic Safety:
Main Floor, Twin Atria Building
Room 109, 4999 98 Avenue NW
Edmonton, Alberta T6B 2X3