Distracted drivers are more likely to be involved in an accident than those paying attention to the road. Those that operate a vehicle while distracted can cause a collision with another vehicle, bicycle or pedestrian. This can ruin other people’s lives, causing catastrophic injury or worse

As a result, the Alberta Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) has indicated that it will focus on distracted driving in February. This article looks at the risks caused by distracted driving, possible penalties for engaging in distracted driving and how distracted driving may impact a personal injury claim. 

What is distracted driving?

We commonly think of distracted driving as using a cell phone while behind the wheel. However, the range of conduct encompassed by distracted driving is much broader.

According to Alberta’s Traffic Safety Act (Act), individuals are not permitted to operate a vehicle while engaged in an activity that distracts them, including but not limited to:

  • reading or viewing printed material other than an instrument that provides information regarding the status or location of the vehicle;
  • writing, printing or sketching; and
  • engaging in personal grooming or hygiene.

In addition, the Act prohibits the following:

  • Holding, viewing or manipulating a cell phone or other communication or electronic device unless it is a cell phone or radio communication device in hands-free mode; and
  • Driving while the display screen of a television, computer, or other device is activated and visible to the individual, with some exceptions, including for looking at GPS devices that are programmed before the person starts to operate the vehicle or are used in a voice-activated manner.

These activities cannot be engaged, even while stopped at a red light. There are some exceptions, such as for calling 911 in an emergency. Some other activities are not explicitly prohibited while driving, such as eating snacks.

What has the Alberta RCMP said?

The Alberta RCMP has reminded drivers of the increased dangers of distracted driving. It has said that it will focus on distracted driving enforcement in February.

The RCMP has called on drivers to focus on driving, including by pre-setting devices like the GPS before putting the vehicle in drive and pulling over and parking the vehicle before using a cell phone to text, call or send an email. 

What do the statistics show?

According to the Alberta RCMP, distracted driving is the primary cause of over 20% of crashes, and distracted drivers are three times more likely to be involved in a collision than other drivers. Unfortunately, collisions caused by distracted driving occur in Alberta every day.

Statistics show almost 14,000 convictions for distracted driving in Alberta in 2022. More than 10,000 of these were for using a cell phone or other communication device. Over 2500 people were convicted of using a hand-held or wireless electronic device. One person was caught grooming themself while operating a vehicle.

These conviction rates are down from those recorded from 2018 to 2020.

What are the possible penalties?

Distracted driving in Alberta may result in a fine of $300 and three demerit points. This is regardless of whether or not the activity impacts the person’s driving performance.

Engaging in riskier behaviour could result in other, more serious charges. For example, a careless driving charge may apply where the person drives without due care and attention or without reasonable consideration for other people using the road. 

Finally, dangerous driving is a serious offence under Canada’s Criminal Code. More serious punishments may be applied where the conduct results in bodily harm or death.

How does distracted driving impact personal injury claims?

If you have been injured in a collision with a motor vehicle caused by a distracted driver, it is very important to obtain advice from an experienced personal injury lawyer. We can provide you with individualized advice about your prospects of succeeding in a compensation claim. 

Generally, if the other driver was distracted at the time of the accident, it may be easier to succeed in your claim. This is because the Act reverses the normal burden of proof rules that apply to civil proceedings.

Normally, the injured plaintiff’s job is to prove that the defendant driver negligently caused their injury. The plaintiff must show that the defendant breached the standard of care expected of a reasonably prudent person and that this breach caused the injury. 

However, section 185 of the Act changes this if a motor vehicle was operated by a person who is in contravention of, or failed to comply with, the Act. Suppose a person is injured due to the operation of a motor vehicle on a highway instead of needing to prove that the other driver was negligent. In that case, the onus is on the non-compliant driver to prove that the injury did not arise because of their contravention or failure to comply.

This makes it easier for those injured by distracted drivers to claim compensation in civil proceedings. For example, the driver that was distracted by using a cell phone, not in hands-free mode, needs to prove that the injury caused by the collision did not arise because of this failure. 

Contact the Personal Injury Lawyers at Cuming & Gillespie LLP for Advice on Motor Vehicle Accident Claims

Motorists, pedestrians, and cyclists are vulnerable to injuries from collisions caused by distracted drivers. If you have been injured in a motor vehicle accident, including at the hands of a distracted driver, contact the personal injury lawyers at Cuming & Gillespie LLP in Calgary to discuss how we can help you obtain the compensation you need to overcome your injuries and move on with your life. We will advise you on your prospects and look out for you every step of the way. Please phone us at 403-571-0555 or contact us online to book a confidential appointment for a free consultation.