What is distracted driving and why is it dangerous?

“Distracted driving” happens whenever someone drives while doing other things that take their attention from the road. Distracted driving puts everyone in danger. Lives can change in an instant when drivers lose focus and try to multitask instead of staying alert for hazards.

What is distracted driving and why is it dangerous?

Distracted Driving Law

Any activity that steals a driver’s attention from the road is called distracted driving. It’s a no-no under Alberta law, which restricts drivers from:

  • Using hand-held cell phones
  • Texting or emailing
  • Using electronic devices like laptop computers, video games, cameras, video entertainment displays and programming portable audio players (e.g., MP3 players)
  • Entering information on GPS units
  • Reading printed materials in the vehicle
  • Writing, printing or sketching
  • Personal grooming (brushing and flossing teeth, putting on makeup, curling hair, clipping nails or shaving)
Risks

Some people think they can multitask while driving because they only look away from the road briefly. But according to the Traffic Injury Research Foundation, a vehicle going 100 km/h can cover the length of a hockey rink if the driver looks away for just two seconds. That’s plenty of time for a pedestrian to step in front of your car at the intersection you didn’t see coming.

Even if you think you’re keeping your eyes on the road while talking on a phone, you could be missing important traffic details. The Canadian Automobile Association (CAA) says drivers are four times more likely to be involved in a crash when talking on a cell phone  – and eight times more likely when texting.

A number of online driving simulators demonstrate the dangers of distracted driving. Check out the Drop It and Drive website for links or play the CAA’s TXT U  L8R game.

Consequences

You could face a $287 fine and three demerit points on your driver’s licence for distracted driving. Police can apply the fine and points even if your distracted driving did not cause an accident. If you get too many demerits over time, you could lose your license for a month or more, depending on the circumstances.

Learn more about Alberta’s distracted driving law here, including exemptions for positions using two-way radios (such as emergency personnel, taxi drivers and couriers), as well as a list of what’s not covered by the law.

You can also find answers to common questions about distracted driving on the Calgary Police Service website.

Preventing Distracted Driving

Preventing distracted driving requires a “safety first” attitude and a little advance planning. Before you start driving, make sure you:

  1. Know where you’re going. Set navigation settings, check maps and directions before you hit the road or ask a passenger to navigate. Know how long it will take to reach your destination and leave enough time to get there.
  2. Remove temptation. Place your phone in the glove box or in a bag you can’t reach. Turn the phone off or put the sound down so you’re not tempted to reach for it if a call or text comes in. The Alberta Motor Association suggests drivers enable a phone’s “do not disturb” feature or download a “do not disturb while driving” app. If you must use your phone, pull over at a safe location.
  3. Prepare entertainment. Trying to change CDs or select a playlist while driving is a bad idea so get things set up before you go. If you have kids in the car, make sure they have snacks, books, toys, or quiet games to keep them happy, too.
  4. Motivate yourself. Think of how your loved ones would be affected and how terrible you would feel if your inattention caused a crash. If you’re having trouble avoiding distracting behaviour, consider registering for a defensive driving class.

You should have two hands on the steering wheel while driving. If you need to take a hand off the wheel for something unrelated to driving, think hard about whether it’s truly necessary.

For more distracted driving facts and advice, visit the CAAAMA and Insurance Bureau of Canada websites.

CIES Guides are a volunteer-led project made possible through contributions from the community.

Thanks to Jessica Whiteside for help with this guide. If you want to suggest a correction to this guide, or want to submit one of your own, please contact us.