Listen up. People are not behaving. The stick is too small.
So Calgary Police Chief Rick Hanson tells the Sun he has an idea he will bring forward at the next huddle of the province’s police chiefs.
Hanson wants Alberta to do what some other provinces do already — not only fine motorists for distracted driving but hit them where it really hurts.
We’re talking demerit points on their licence and enough of those points so folks get the message.
“Distracted driving should be an offence with demerits. Absolutely.
“That’s exactly why nobody is paying attention. Compliance is based on demerit points not fines.”
What scares people is higher insurance rates and losing their licence. With demerit points there’s a risk you’ll get both.
“Clearly, it’s time we look at demerits associated with distracted driving and significant demerits because people are just choosing to ignore the legislation and it’s not having the impact we hoped it would.”
A year into this thing, more than a few drivers are going back to their old devices.
Sure, when the law finally and begrudgingly came in with much fanfare, people were playing nice.
But old and easy habits die hard and now you see drivers on their phones all the time.
Groups such as the Alberta Motor Association addressed the issue of demerits when they found Alberta’s law didn’t have any.
“Demerits reinforce the expectation not to engage in such behaviour,” said the AMA.
“If they continue to engage in the behaviour, the accumulation of demerits has the potential to affect the ability to hold a driver’s licence.”
Some provinces have fines and demerits.
Hanson says there is a big difference between getting a photo radar ticket with no demerits and a distracting driving conviction where he feels there has to be serious points on the licence.
“Everybody needs a tap on the side of the head and you don’t necessarily need demerit points to do that.
“Frequently, people in a moment of inattention will get a ticket for speeding, photo radar, whatever. You know what, it’s a reminder to slow down and pay attention.
“But with distracted driving it’s a conscious decision every time you pick up a phone. It’s not like a moment’s inattention. You’ve made a decision you’re going to text your buddies.”
The chief’s words can’t be written off as a trial balloon.
Hanson is very respected by the premier, who was the justice minister and worked closely with the chief to get more dough to increase the number of cops.
And don’t forget so quickly.
Hanson and other chiefs were the folks who threw a long bomb with the clock ticking down and got the premier to pull the pin on the Fort Macleod cop college.
While the Edmonton police aren’t taking a public stand on demerits, with Hanson’s position out on the street and the chiefs to discuss it, the capital city’s top cop Rod Knecht will definitely have something to say, since he’s head of the group.
As for the province, they believe a $172 fine is good enough.
It will be interesting to see how Transportation Minister Ric McIver, who was busy Friday, will react because this scribbler is heading to the $2 window to bet Premier Redford will not rule out taking a good hard look.
The fact is the Alberta Tories were the last province to bring in a distracted driving law.
Four years ago, their deep thinkers produced a paper obtained by the Sun at the time.
They said public awareness and education were more likely than a law to reduce distracted driving.
Cops were frustrated by the foot dragging of the Tories and behind closed doors the government MLAs were divided on what to do and when.
In 2010, the Tories weren’t sure they could get a law on the agenda but, by September 201l, exactly a year ago, the law came into force with a fine and no demerits.
They could not go as far as demerits with lukewarm members in their ranks.
Now, Redford is in charge and Hanson is beating the drum.
He is a most effective persuader.
“In order to change behaviour, we do have to look at demerits for the distracted driving offence. It just makes sense,” concludes Hanson, prepared to convince the other police chiefs to come on board.
They won once, more than once. They can win again.