Cell phone usage while driving now punishable by law.

Published 8:00 am Monday, June 26, 2023

A new law signed by Governor Kay Ivey prohibits an individual from holding a cellphone while operating a vehicle. The Senate Bill 301 for distracted driving was proposed by Alabama State Senator J.T. ‘Jabo’ Waggoner, who lost his son in a car accident in 1979. The bill’s passage is a victory for Waggoner, who said preventing car accidents and improving road safety was his goal for the legislative session. 

According to The National Safety Council, talking or texting while driving is by far the most common reason for distracted driving accidents. In 2021 distracted driving claimed 3,522 lives in the country according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). 

The NHTSA explains that the average time it takes to read a text while driving is 5 seconds. At 55 mph, that’s like driving the length of an entire football field with your eyes closed. A lot can happen during that time. 

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“The new law is a good thing,” said Sheriff Christopher West of Lowndes County. “On our side of highway 65 we have seen car crashes go up tremendously, especially during holidays. We believe it is mostly from distracted driving. In this new tech world, this law is needed.”

The new law is a secondary violation. A driver cannot be pulled over for being on the phone, but if they are holding a cellphone which causes them to make a traffic violation, then they will be charged for a separate offense. A first offense is a fine no greater than $50, a second offense within the 24-month time is a fine no greater than $100, a third or following offenses within the 24-month time frame is a fine no greater than $150. Each violation is placed on the individual’s driving record. 

Some exceptions to the law include using a phone to contact emergency services while operating a vehicle, using a phone while pulled over on the shoulder of a road, and using a phone for navigation without manually inputting anything. Using bluetooth or having the phone on speaker while not holding it in your hand is legal.

“I am pleased that Governor Ivey has signed the Distracted Driving Bill,” said Lieutenant Chris Stewart of the Crenshaw County Sheriffs Department. “It is a welcomed step towards enhancing the safety of our community’s roads and highways. Since the bill is quite recent, we have not had to enforce it yet. However, we will be working hard to ensure that people are aware of the new law and that it is enforced accordingly to make our roads safer for everyone.”

Next year Waggoner plans to strengthen his bill so that the distracted driving law becomes a primary traffic offense, allowing drivers to be pulled over for using their devices while driving. “Maybe it’ll help save some lives,” stated Waggoner.