New driving law disregards tradition

This week, our columnist Claudette Sandecki talks about Alberta's distracted driving law

Alberta’s Distracted Driving Law has ended the tradition of farm kids learning to drive perched on Dad’s lap and steering a small tractor while Dad pushes the clutch and shifts the gears. My siblings and I learned to drive on an 8N Ford doing small jobs around the farm yard in second or third gear until we were experienced enough to travel farther afield.

Besides learning to steer, while navigating the Ford we got the hang of clutching smoothly so we didn’t grind the gears, using hand turn signals when travelling a road or highway, and behaving safely and sensibly whether driving or riding.

The grey Ford was a nifty workhorse with a top speed of 11.92 mph in fourth gear.  We were restricted in fourth gear to a bump on the speed dial. When opening the throttle moved the lever close to nudging that bump – a speed that vibrated the fenders itching the hands of any passenger hanging on – we could settle for that speed or lose our driving privileges.

None of us wanted to be banished from the Ford’s seat of power. Turning the key in the ignition was a treat as well as a serious responsibility, even without a passenger or two standing with one foot on a running board, the other braced on the housing or rear axle.

We drove the Ford choring around the farm, cultivating the small field of potatoes, planting shelterbelt trees, hauling out manure from the barns in winter, herding beef stock to summer pasture in the spring. With it we mowed, raked hay, pulled hayracks along while Dad pitched bales aboard, or  distributing new posts and collecting old posts when Dad repaired fences.

For 20 years the Ford sat stored in a quonset so that today it is in almost mint condition. Its toolbox even holds two original wrenches with handles calibrated to measure gas left in the tank. My brother in Edmonton was teaching his 8-year-old grandson to drive the Ford down the back alley and along a quiet  residential cul-de-sac before the law came into effect September 1, 2011.

The law is government’s attempt to encourage drivers to focus on driving as opposed to applying makeup, watching movies, or eating corn flakes from a bowl in one hand with a spoon in the other.

Specifically, the law restricts drivers from:

– using hand-held cell phones

– texting or e-mailing

– 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, and

– personal grooming.

The law does allow such activities as talking to passengers, smoking, eating a snack or drinking. The fine for ignoring the law is $172.

Drivers that exhibit what is deemed to be more serious or risky behaviors could be charged with ‘driving carelessly’ under the Traffic Safety Act. The penalty for the existing ‘driving carelessly’ offence carries six demerit points and a fine of $402.

If a driver does commit a moving violation while engaged in one of these activities or any other deemed as a distraction, they could receive two tickets – one for distracted driving, and one for the moving violation.

It also states that a driver cannot have a person occupying the front seat in a way that may impede the driver.

So long as my brother displays an orange triangular Slow Moving sign on the back of the Ford he can legally drive it along city streets, but no longer can he have his grandson sitting on his lap, as that would be deemed a distraction to his own driving.

Once again laws designed to curb idiots shortchanges the innocent.