Alabama Distracted Driving Laws
- Ban on all cell phone use (handheld and hands-free) for novice drivers (Primary Law).
- Ban on texting for all drivers, effective 8/1/12 (Primary Law).
Alabama’s Texting While Driving Stand
The Alabama state house unanimously approved a bill on February 21st which would ban texting and driving in Alabama. Following a unanimous 92-0 vote, House Bill 2 was sent to the State Senate, which voted against similar bills the previous two years. The bill would add to current legislation which only prohibits text messaging or phone use by those under 18 with a restricted license.
House Bill 2, sponsored by Republican Jim McClendon from Springville, would prohibit text messaging from a wireless communication device. This would be a primary enforcement law, meaning that officers could use this alone as a reason to pull an automobile over. Penalties would include a $25 fine for the first offense, increasing to $50 and $75 and two points on the driver’s license. An amendment that would have increased the law’s penalties to the same as drunk driving was rejected, by a 67-15 vote, also on February 21st.
Jim McClendon has been trying to pass solid distracted driving legislation in Alabama for some time. In 2009, he had a similar bill pass through the house only to be stopped in the senate. He proposed several distracted driving bills that year. HB 282 proposed a ban on drivers 16 or younger or 17-year-olds with less than 6 months of driving experience from using any audio, hands-free, or hand-held device that is not necessary to operate the vehicle. HB 157 would have banned drivers from text messaging. It proposed penalties as severe as 3 points on the driver’s license and a 60-day suspension of license after the 4th offense. HB 158 was killed in the Senate, however, when Sen. Vivian Figures, a Democrat from Mobile, took issue with the wording of the bill. The bill was consequently beaten in a 5-3 vote, but McClendon said that he was happy to see one of his proposed distracted driving bills pass.
Alabama House Bill 35, introduced in 2010 by McClendon, proposed a ban on both text messaging and the use of GPS navigation devices while driving on highways and roads in Alabama. The bill also proposed primary enforcement and $25, $50, and $75 penalties, as well as court costs and a point on the driver’s license. The bill was defeated in the Senate after a judicial committee disagreed over language which made the offender automatically considered liable in the event of a crash. They then refused to pass the bill without that language. A major insurer in the state also objected to this provision of the bill.
Alabama House Bill 35 faced other opposition, as well. Roger Smitherman, a Democrat from Jefferson, asserted that passing the bill with primary enforcement would result in racial profiling by police officers. In future versions of the bill, McClendon made provisions for these concerns.
Despite its opposition, Alabama House Bill 35 had clear support from a wide range of individuals, organizations, and legislators.
HB 102, proposed in 2011 by McClendon, was almost identical to the one currently in consideration by the Alabama Senate. It was the first to include a provision against racial profiling which requires law enforcement agencies to report the number of minorities stopped under the bill’s provisions.
Alabama is already one of the strictest states in terms of distracted driving at the local level. Due to stagnancy at the state level, several communities already have secondary enforcement in place of policies prohibiting texting or using a mobile device while driving. At least 17 communities in Alabama already have bans on texting while driving in place.
Decatur ruled to prohibit texting while driving in December of 2010. Decatur’s law prohibits the use of mobile devices while driving except to make phone calls, and it also includes a ban on entering data in GPS while driving. It includes fines of $100 to $500 and possible jail time. Spanish Fort’s laws concerning texting while driving are even more severe, including a possible ten days of jail time after a first offense, and up to three months for a third offense.