Alberta motorists caught text-messaging, answering a cellphone or putting on lipstick face a $172 fine after the province's new distracted driving legislation came into effect Thursday.

Alberta is the last province to enforce a ban on using hand-held cellphones while driving — but the new law is being hailed as one of the toughest because it bans things like grooming and reading while driving.

The law also prohibits drivers from reading and writing, operating a GPS device or viewing a computer or other display screens while operating a motor vehicle.

The use of hands-free devices is still allowed, so electronics stores were busy Wednesday with people hoping to buy one before the Sept. 1 deadline.

At Certified Radio, demand for the devices doubled over the past week, manager Darryl Dahl said.

"Right now, we're seeing a flood of customers coming in with their cellphones and their owner's manuals for their cellphones, trying to learn how to turn on their Bluetooth just so they can do the hands-free," Dahl said.

While most Alberta drivers will spend Thursday getting used to the new prohibitions, it will be business as usual in Strathcona County, east of Edmonton, where a ban on hand-held cellphone use has been in place for two years.


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"We wrote approximately 600 tickets from September 2009 to September 2010," said RCMP Const. Wally Henry. "From September 2010 up until today, we've written about 400 tickets."

Strathcona County resident Tara Boucher said she learned her lesson after getting a ticket.

"I got a headset the same day," she said.

Drivers can use a GPS device if it’s voice-activated or if they programmed it before starting their trip.

Viewing a car’s instrument gauges and status screens is allowed and drivers can still use a cellphone or radio to call 911.