Ing + McKee

The Consequences of Distracted Driving in Alberta

April 5, 2023

Did you know that if you’re driving and engaging in a conversation on your mobile device, you are over 4 times more likely to be involved in an accident? Distracted driving is one of the leading causes of driving-related accidents resulting in bodily injury in Alberta.

Let’s take a look at what constitutes distracted driving, what the consequences are, and what you can do to curb any bad habits you’ve developed.

What is distracted driving?

Distracted driving refers to the use of hand-held devices and certain display screens while driving, stopped in traffic, or stopped at a red light. Basically, if you’re driving and engage in an activity involving a mobile device, then you are guilty of distracted driving under Alberta law.

When you are in the driver’s seat, it is illegal to engage in the following:

  • Texting or dialing your phone or hand-held wireless device
  • Using your tablet or portable gaming system
  • Engaging with a display screen unrelated to driving (e.g. watching a video)
  • Programming a GPS (if not via voice command)
  • Writing, printing, or sketching
  • Reading printed materials
  • Grooming

In Alberta, it is illegal to even hold your phone while driving. The only times that you are permitted to use your phone while in your car are when you have to call 911 or when you’re safely parked off the road.

It is not illegal to use a hands-free communication device such as a Bluetooth device or earpiece, nor is it illegal to use a GPS unit if it is built in or securely mounted to your vehicle’s dashboard.

However, be aware: despite the fact that it is legal to use a hands-free device while driving, the risk of being involved in an accident is still greatly increased. Talking on any device can diminish your reaction time, making you a risk to both yourself and others.

CAUTION: Eating, drinking, smoking, and reaching for things while driving are not classified as distracted driving in Alberta. Despite this, these activities increase your risk of getting into an accident, and doing any of them can result in careless or dangerous driving charges.

The penalties for distracted driving

Because using a cell phone or other electronic device while driving is so dangerous, you can face serious penalties if you are caught.

If convicted of distracted driving, you may face a penalty of a $287 fine and three demerit points. If you are charged with careless driving or a moving violation, you could face additional penalties.

If you are found to be endangering individuals as a result of distracted driving, you can face additional charges. Careless and dangerous driving charges can result in loss of demerit points, steep fines, licence suspensions, and jail time.

Additionally, if you are convicted of distracted driving, your auto insurance can be affected. You could face higher insurance rates, classification as a high-risk driver, or even cancellation of your policy altogether.

Remember, even if your driving doesn’t seem to be affected, you can still be charged with distracted driving.

How to prevent distracted driving

We’ve become accustomed to responding to our phones as soon as they chime, beep, and vibrate, and it can be easy to find ourselves answering calls or pressing away at buttons while driving. Here are some tips on what you can do to avoid becoming distracted while driving:

Turn your mobile device off: This is both the easiest and the hardest solution. Powering down your device ensures that you’ll be distraction free, but doing this requires some discipline. Try turning your phone off when you enter your car, then turning it back on when you get out.

Hide your device: Even if you have your phone off and it’s beside you, you might be tempted to power it up while driving to see if you’ve missed a call or message. If you can’t see your phone, chances are you’ll be less tempted to respond to it. Try putting your device in the trunk of the car before getting in. You probably won’t even miss it.

Set your phone to Do Not Disturb: Most phones now have a Do Not Disturb feature. This feature will prevent calls and texts from coming in unless the caller is on a pre-designated list or the same number calls multiple times in a row. Setting your device to Do Not Disturb while having your Bluetooth activated will ensure the only calls that will reach you are important ones.

Give your phone to a passenger: If you’re expecting an important call or text, give your phone to someone else who can respond to any message. They can take care of the call while you take care of the driving.

Distracted driving is a serious risk both to yourself and to others. It’s not worth taking the chance. If you have questions about how changing your driving habits can affect your insurance rate, speak to your insurance broker.

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