new law enough to drive motorists to distraction

It’s been two days since the Alberta distracted driving law came into effect. What have you been doing behind the wheel? According to this new provincial legislation, not much. If your hands aren’t squarely on the wheel and your eyes aren’t staring at the golden balls hanging from the pickup truck in front of you, you’re breaking the law.

Alberta has always seemed to resist becoming a nanny state, unlike our neighbours to the west. I remember cruising British Columbia on family vacations in the ’70s. We’d sit poised with thumbs on the seatbelt button waiting for the “Welcome to Alberta, Wildrose Country” sign, at which point our seatbelts would fly off so we could once again wrestle in the backseat of our LTD. Alberta was one of the last provinces in the country that legislated seatbelts. But the wild seems to have been beaten out of the rose (no offense to Rose) as our province has taken a more controlling standpoint by legislating one of the nation’s most restrictive laws on distracted driving.

Not only do you have to put away your cell phone, you’ll have to keep your hands off your MP3 player. This means if you inadvertently set your player to repeat your daughter’s favourite Justin Beiber song, too bad, so sad, baby. You’ll be Stuck in the Moment ’til you turn off the ignition. Further, you won’t be able to touch up lipstick, floss teeth, write a note or enter information into your GPS.

The Alberta government website indicates using your laptop computer, taking a picture, and “sketching” could also land you a fine. So put your easel in the trunk and keep the PowerPoint presentation undone until you get to work. If, however, you’re driving a 40-ton semi truck and feel like chatting on a CB radio, that’s OK. The site also warns about drivers becoming “too involved” with their pet in the car. I’m not sure I want to know what that means.

Your hands are tied even when you’re not moving. For instance, if you check your email while you’re stopped at a red light, stuck in traffic or waiting for a train, you could still be charged. However, I did notice that, in the interest of keeping police on the streets, they didn’t outlaw doughnuts and coffee. The law is so detailed and selective I’m just not sure whether to consider it official legislation or a killjoy measure (no offense to Joy).

What about things they don’t list? Like the ripcord helicopter my son got from his dentist that flew through the van? Or that nice looking jogger on the sidewalk? Or the last almond in your snack pack that landed between the seat and the console just beyond where your fingers can reach?

And who can’t be disoriented when every second day the traffic flow changes on Anthony Henday Drive? Every arterial roadway between St. Albert and Edmonton is under construction! Between the closed roads, construction zones, photo radar and confusing exit ramps that lead you into an open field, it’s enough to drive a person to distraction! I don’t need a cell phone to throw me. The transportation department is doing it for me.

Looking in our rear-view mirror years from now, we’ll determine this law was only marginally effective. Traffic safety won’t improve until we require people to take driving tests to renew their licence and judges to enforce laws that have already been broken. In the words of George Carlin, that way, we’ll get the idiots off the road who drive too slow, and the maniacs who drive too fast. And if you happen to be reading this while driving, shame on you, but while you’re at it, log in to and text me your comments!

St. Albert Gazette | Saturday, September 3, 2011 06:00 am | Dee-Ann Schwanke

Dee-Ann Schwanke considers her most stressful driving moment to be circling a roundabout in a manual compact car in Scotland.


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