Bill 16 — better late than never - Metro US

Bill 16 — better late than never

You’ve probably done it before. I have. But if Bill 16 passes we’re not going to be able to do it anymore (and that’s probably a good thing).

The long-awaited distracted driver legislation introduced this month applies to all vehicles and would ban drivers from a long list of sidetracking activities, including using a cellphone.

I have a hard time not having a chat here and there on my phone while driving, but evidence proves it’s not a good idea.

In July 2009, a driver slammed into the back of a landscaping truck in Edmonton, killing landscape worker Sefatullah Khanzadeh. Khanzadeh, 18, was picking up orange traffic pylons on the road and got crushed between the vehicles. The driver didn’t even brake. Witnesses saw her texting on her cellphone as she got out of her car.

We’ve known about these risks for a while now. A 1997 University of Toronto study found driving while talking on a cellphone quadruples the risk of an accident. The Alberta Medical Association similarly reported reaction time slows by 18 per cent, and the likelihood of failing to stop at a stop sign increases 10 times when using a cellphone.

By 1999, the Canadian Medical Association began rallying its members to lobby governments to ban the use of cellphones in vehicles.

The lobbying worked … in some places. Newfoundland listened and introduced legislation in 2003. Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, Quebec, Ontario, Saskatchewan and B.C. followed suit. Manitoba is coming onboard later this year.

So why haven’t we moved faster?

It’s not for lack of effort. In 2002, Judy Gordon, then an MLA, introduced a motion to ban cellphone use while driving — it was later defeated in the legislature. Art Johnston, MLA for Calgary-Hays, tried again, unsuccessfully in 2008. Johnston, a former police officer, has stayed on the issue though, bringing forward the current Bill 16.

Premier Ed Stelmach, however, has not supported legislation in the past, worried that it could tie up the courts (despite evidence that such legislation holds in the Supreme Court). Stelmach has suggested driver education is a better choice.

Trends suggest legislation will eventually be enacted in our province dealing with driver distractions such as cellphone use — it’s just a wonder why it has taken so long?

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