The province is upping the ante on its distracted driving legislation and will begin recording demerit points against drivers who are caught in the act starting in the New Year.

The province says it will start allocating three demerit points, on top of a $287 fine, to those who are picked up for distracted driving starting on January 1, 2016.

“From September 2011 to March of this year, there were more than 87,000 convictions for distracted driving, and despite our best efforts, distracted driving remains a real danger, with convictions increasing year over year. Given these numbers, we are following through on Albertans’ wishes for stronger penalties for distracted driving,” said Brian Mason, Minister of Transportation

Under provincial law, drivers are restricted from:

  • Using hand-held cell phones
  • Texting or e-mailing (even when stopped at red lights)
  • 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)

Officials say distracted drivers are three times more likely to be involved in a collision than those who are not distracted and that the stronger penalties should help to the reduce those numbers.

“Albertans continue to engage in dangerous habits behind the wheel. To curb this behavior and to prevent Alberta from becoming one of those jurisdictions our government has amended the regulations to add three demerit points to the fine for distracted driving,” said Mason. “Research shows that demerits are a more effective deterrent when paired with enforcement and education initiatives.”

Mason says the move will put Alberta in line with other provinces that already have demerits in place as part of a specified penalty for distracted driving.

CTV News talked to Albertans about the changes and some feel the penalty is fair while others think it’s a bit heavy handed.

“Everywhere I go I see people putting on makeup or reading and driving or talking on their phone or texting, a mere fine doesn't do it, there has to be something stronger,” said one woman.

“People need to realize that it’s dangerous, plain and simple,” said another.

“Three demerits seems pretty heavy to me, but it is what it is so it’s no different than a speeding ticket," said one Calgary driver.

“I think adding three demerits point right off the bat is a little heavy,” said one man.

Drivers who accumulate 15 demerit points or more within a two year period will have their licence suspended for a period of one month.

The law applies to urban and rural roadways in the province and penalties are issued to the driver of the vehicle, not the owner.

Distracted driving facts from the province:

  • Since September 1, 2011, when distracted driving legislation was introduced, through March 31, 2015, there have been 87,633 convictions
  • The trend has been an increased number of convictions, with more than 27,000 between April 2014 and March 31, 2015
  • Ninety-seven per cent of these convictions were for using a hand-held electronic device while driving
  • During 2014-15, male drivers accounted for two-thirds of all convictions
  • Young male drivers, aged 22 to 34 years, had the highest conviction rates
  • In the Driver Attitude Survey conducted in August 2014, 81 per cent of Alberta drivers believed distracted driving is the leading cause of collisions. Despite this, 53 per cent of Alberta drivers admitted to texting while driving in the previous three months
  • If you’re travelling 100 km/h, you will travel the length of a football field in the time it takes to send a text message (approximately five seconds).

For more on Alberta’s distracted driving legislation, click HERE.