Distracted Driving and the Traffic Safety Act.

Date01 September 2019
AuthorFluker, Shaun

As the new school year begins, it is important to be even more alert on the roads while driving and particularly in school zones and playground zones. Distracted driving has become a major public safety issue with the proliferation of mobile technology and the in-dash features of modern vehicles. Traffic safety legislation across Canada includes provisions which make distracted driving an offence, and some provinces impose a license suspension even on the first conviction. The Canadian Automobile Association reports that approximately 1/4 of all accidents involve the use of mobile devices (including hands-free modes). The message is clear: Stay away from your mobile device while driving.

Below is a reprint of my comment about a recent Alberta case which considered the distracted driving provisions relating to mobile devices in Alberta's Traffic Safety Act.

Case Commented On: R v Ahmed, 2019 ABQB 13 (CanLII)

Alberta added distracted driving offences to the Traffic Safety Act, RSA 2000 c T-6 in 2011, and two of these provisions are the subject of this decision by Justice John T Henderson. The accused was charged under section 115.1(1)(b) for operating a vehicle while looking at his mobile phone. This particular section prohibits driving while holding, viewing or manipulating a hand-held electronic device or a wireless electronic device. The facts were not in dispute at trial, but the traffic commissioner ruled that a mobile phone is not an "electronic device" and thus acquitted the accused. The Crown appealed this decision to the Court of Queen's Bench. A literal or plain reading of section 115.1(1)(b) does lead one to question the view that a mobile device is not an electronic device, but statutory interpretation is not always a literal exercise--particularly when the provisions themselves are written in a complicated or "inelegant" manner as is noted by the court here. This case is perhaps more about distracted drafting than it is distracted driving.

The mobile phone is on a shortlist of technology which has effected a profound change in our daily routine. These devices are an impressive and powerful machine with all sorts of functionality. I'm old enough to remember when the Walkman fundamentally changed how we listen to music, followed later by the Watchman, which never did have the same impact on viewing. But these days your mobile phone offers both of these services in a much more convenient and far more powerful technology, along with many other functions and connectivity. Describing these devices as a 'phone' has become a misnomer, and harkens back to a time when people actually used mobile devices to talk to each other. These are more properly described as a portal into the virtual reality of the internet and social media where most communication occurs as cryptic messaging and images.

The functionality of mobile devices is highly addictive, and this is readily observable in just about any public setting. Think of how many people walk past you with their head pointed down at their mobile device, thumbs and fingers punching away and buds in their ears. Nearly all of us have done the same. The addictive nature of these devices also means they can be a distraction. This can be an annoyance when someone focused on their mobile device while walking gets into the right-of-way of others, but when it comes to driving a vehicle this distraction is a public safety hazard.

Unfortunately, many of us succumb to the temptation of using these devices while driving. How many times have you looked over to other drivers waiting at an intersection with their attention focused on a mobile device? Alberta Transportation publishes distracted driving enforcement...

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