Investigating serious flaws in Alberta's proposed distracted driving legislation

"There aughta be a law"-itis strikes again, this time with Alberta's proposed new distracted driving legislation. Naturally, the media seizes upon the "not tough enough" crowd:

Dr. Dan Voaklander, the director of the Alberta Centre for Injury Control and Research is a strong supporter of the proposed law and is confident it will have no trouble passing.

However, Dr. Voaklander feels the law may not go far enough. He'd like to see hands-free devices added to the list.

"You can stop talking to someone in your car because they know what the driving situation is, whereas the disembodied voice on your hands-free doesn't know what your doing." Says Voaklander.

Motorist caught doing anything other than driving would face a $172 fine under the proposed law. Dr. Voaklander thinks demerits should also be added to the punishment.

Well good for you Dr. Voaklander. But what are you punishing drivers for? If all you read are the op-eds and the opinion of Health & Safety Nazis like Voakey here, you would think you are punishing people for texting while driving. Are you?

All you have to do is look at a giant giant giant flaw covered on Alberta Transportaton's website of FAQs to see a huge problem with the legislation:
Will I be able to text a message or comb my hair when I am stopped at a red light?

No. You cannot engage in distracting activities when stopped at a red light, delayed in traffic or waiting for a train.
Can I be charged if I am just holding my cell phone or PDA?

Yes. Drivers who are holding a cell phone or PDA, even if the phone is powered off, can be charged. This applies to ALL hand-held electronic devices, such as cameras, MP3 players, video gaming devices etc.

Let's tackle the second silly situation first. Can a driver be charged for holding, say, an apple? Nope, take a look at this tidbit:
Also, they will be able to do things like eating, talking with passengers, smoking, or adjusting the vehicle controls.
So if a driver can be holding an apple (which isn't being used to text, phone, or surf the web), why is it different when he's holding an Apple (which isn't being used to text, phone, or surf the web)? I can puff away on a cigarette while driving, flicking ash into the ashtray. Yet if I have my phone charging (and off) on the passenger seat, and flip it upside down if I find I'm being distracted by the reflection of light off the screen, that's against the law? That makes absolutely no sense. If I'm holding a cellphone in my hand but not using it, then I'm no more "distracted" by it than if I was holding a molded piece of plastic with absolutely no electronics contained within. In fact, a half-smart person would drive around holding one such device in his hands -- not faux-talking or texting -- and try to get a ticket just for the joy of quashing it in court.

Yet this is, bizarrely enough, the lesser of the two evils of folly contained in this legislation. Let's go back to the first one:
You cannot engage in distracting activities when stopped at a red light, delayed in traffic or waiting for a train.
What? What? Why?

The purpose of this legislation, remember, is to reduce accidents caused by inattention when driving. Was there a serious problem with people being injured in accidents caused by texting while waiting for a train? Were a lot of drivers combing their hair at red lights accidentally putting the car in drive and slamming on the gas pedal?

As it currently stands, when you are waiting for a train you don't even need to have your engine running. Many times if I'm stuck at one of those atrociously long trains on 170th street, I'll actually get out and stretch. Its not exactly like you're holding up traffic. Do you know something else you can do while you're at a train crossing or a red light? You can close your eyes. Next time you're waiting on a train, do it. When a good song comes on, close your eyes and enjoy it. Open them at the end, when the train is...still there.

So why can't you be on your phone while at a red light, or while waiting for a train, or stuck on a gridlocked and not moving roadway? One of the great sets of innovations lately has been things like mobile apps and services like Twitter to help you learn how to get around construction or accident related traffic tie-ups: a trick that will help reduce overall gridlock, reduce driver frustration, and indeed reduce accidents. [if you care about this sort of crap, it also will reduce greenhouse gas emissions! -ed]

So the Province of Alberta is now foolishly taking away all of those positive developments...for what? There is a simple thing that can be added to this legislation so that when at red lights or behind trains or stuck in traffic drivers can access their electronic devices:
The driver of a vehicle which is not in motion on a roadway and in compliance of traffic laws is permitted to engage in behaviour elsewhere prohibited in this legislation, however the driver must cease the activities when the vehicle resumes motion.

Bear in mind that if you plan to use a traffic light to let your wife know you're stuck in hideous traffic and going to be late, use a break stuck in gridlock to check a paper map on your seat to investigate alternate routes, take photographs of scenery while waiting 16 vehicles back in a left hand turn lane without a left turn signal phase, or comb your hair while waiting with your engine off for a train that is visibly going to be more than five more minutes, you will have broken this new distracted driving legislation. And lets not forget that if you hold a device without a circuit its legal and if you hold a device with a circuit its a crime even when the act of holding is the same in both cases.

Write and call your MLA. If you're an AMA member, encourage them to support removal of these unnecessary provisions. If you're Dr. Voaklander, read up on what you want us to stop doing and then explain to us why.

We've all seen people not paying sufficient attention while on their cellphones, or putting on makeup and accidentally veering out of the lane, or making wild turns while adjusting an iPod. Do you know what all these events have in common? The vehicle was moving.

If the vehicle isn't moving, the driver isn't a danger and these passages should be removed. End of story.