December 31, 2015 3:40 pm
Updated: December 31, 2015 9:53 pm

‘You would hope’: Edmonton police want new distracted driving penalties taken seriously

WATCH ABOVE: Distracted drivers in Alberta will face stiff new penalties in 2016 as a new law takes effect. Julia Wong reports.

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EDMONTON — Tougher penalties for distracted driving in Alberta are going to include demerits starting Friday, Jan. 1.

Fines went up to $287 after new legislation was passed by the previous Tory government last spring. The NDP provincial government then approved the addition of three demerit points.

READ MORE: Albertans facing increased traffic fines

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“I think anything that they can do to try and discourage distracted driving has got to be a positive step,” Const. Brian McLeod with the Sherwood Park RCMP said earlier this month.

Distracted driving includes using a hand-held cellphone or GPS, as well as reading, writing, eating or personal grooming.

Sgt. James McLeod with the Major Collisions Investigation Unit said it will be interesting to see the impact of the new law.

“You would hope people would take the time to figure out a different method of communication and not operate a vehicle using a cell phone…you would hope,” he said.

McLeod said enforcement will remain the same to catch distracted drivers.

“We’re not going to go, ‘Hey now we can go get demerit points attached to this ticket and this driver.’ That’s not our focus to be out there and focus on that type of activity. Ours is a well-rounded approach to enforcing the laws,” he said.

Driver Mildred Sanchez sometimes uses her phone while in the driver’s seat and says it will be a tough habit to break.

“But you have to sacrifice something that’s for the good of everybody,” she said, adding the addition of demerit points will play a big factor in putting down her phone.

However, not all drivers think the new law will do much – Kerry Belrose does not think it will be enough to change behaviour.

“People can afford the fines. It will make some people stop but not everybody,” he said.

There were 87,633 convictions for distracted driving across Alberta from September 2011 to March 2015, according to the government. Ninety-seven per cent of the incidents involved a driver using a hand-held device.

With files from the Canadian Press

© 2015 Shaw Media

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