What is distracted driving in Alberta?
In 2011, Alberta introduced a distracted driving law. People commonly think of this as the “no cell phones” law, but it’s actually more extensive that that. It gives police officers the ability to issue tickets to any driver who is not giving adequate attention to driving due to distractions such as:
o texting or emailing (even at a red light)
o using hand-held cell phones
o using an electronic device such as a laptop, video game, camera, video display or MP3 player
o entering information on a GPS unit
o reading printed material
o writing, printing or sketching
o personal grooming
What is the penalty for distracted driving?
In 2016, the fine for distracted driving increased to $287 plus 3 demerit points. It is important to note that if you receive a traffic violation while engaging in distracted driving, you may receive two tickets – one for the traffic violation and one for the distracted driving. Depending on the severity of the conviction, you can receive between 2-7 demerit points, in addition to the 3 points for distracted driving, for a total of 5-10 demerit points for a single instance.
What is not distracted driving?
There are some activities which are not specifically restricted by the law, including using a cell phone in hands-free mode where the device can be controlled by voice or single-touch. Other activities not specifically restricted include eating or drinking, smoking, talking with passengers, listening to music (including an MP3 player, as long as you select songs before you start driving), calling 911, using a CB radio when a driver is required to use it for communication with an employer.
There are no specific regulations around having a pet in the vehicle, but the Traffic Safety Act does state that a driver may not allow anyone or anything (including a pet) to interfere with the driver’s access to the vehicle controls and the safe operation of the vehicle, or to interfere with the clear vision of the driver. Alberta Transportation does advise that is recommended to secure animals in pet carriers for their safety and for the safety of people in the vehicle and other vehicles and pedestrians on the road.
What to do if you get a distracted driving ticket:
You can choose to pay the ticket before the conviction date or to wait and attend court on the date indicated on the ticket. The conviction date is the court date or the date that you pay your ticket. By paying the ticket, you are pleading guilty and the demerits will be added to your file effective that date. Therefore, if you want to reduce demerits or increase number of allowed demerits (see below), it’s important to do so before paying the ticket or being convicted.
Number of demerits allowed:
If you are a GDL driver, your license will be suspended when you accumulate 8 demerit points. If you are a fully-licensed (non-GDL driver), you will be suspended if you accumulate 15 points. If you are a GDL driver and you have more than three demerits, you may choose to take the Advanced Road Test and upgrade to a full Class 5 license if you are eligible. If you are trying to avoid a suspension after an offense has occurred, we recommend that you visit your office with your Driver’s License so we can provide accurate information for your specific case. Generally speaking, if you reclass your license after the offense but before the conviction date, you will be able to avoid being suspension. However, if you reclass after the conviction (while suspension is pending), the suspension will still take effect. However, the advantage of doing this is that you won’t have to wait a year after the suspension has lifted before re-classing and your demerit limit after reinstatement will be 15 demerits.
It is possible to reduce the number of demerits on your file by completing an Alberta Government approved Defensive Driving Course and successfully passing the final exam with a score of 80% or higher. The deduction is good for two years (which is how long demerits normally stay on a driving record). If you are a GDL driver and have demerits, we recommend that you take the Advanced Road Test to qualify for a non-GDL Class 5 Driver’s. This will give you up to 15 demerits before a suspension occurs. Also, if you accumulate more demerits after re-classing, you can always choose to take the Defensive Driving Course to reduce your demerits by up to 3 demerits. Please note that you can only apply a demerit-reduction course credit once every 2 years.
In order to get the most accurate information about your driving record, we advise you to come visit us at Registries Plus. We can authenticate your identity in person and access your motor vehicle file to provide the most accurate information for you.