Alabama Legislature passes bill expanding law on distracted driving
Sen. Jabo Waggoner, R-Vestavia Hills, speaks on the floor of the Alabama Senate on April 13, 2023. (Brian Lyman/Alabama Reflector)
A bill to broaden the state’s ban on distracted driving passed the House of Representatives, Tuesday, sending the bill to Gov. Kay Ivey.
Under current law, it is illegal for a person to write, send or read a text message while driving.
SB 301, sponsored by Sen. J.T. ‘Jabo’ Waggoner, R-Vestavia Hills, extends the ban on writing, reading or sending a text message while driving to include physically holding or supporting a mobile device with any part of a person’s body; watching, viewing, recording or capturing a picture or video while driving, and holding a phone for phone calls to that list.
Rep. Randy Wood, R-Anniston, who carried the bill in the House, said law enforcement would only allow be allowed to give a written warning for violations for the first year of enforcement. No points would be entered on the driver’s driving record.
“We’re trying to teach people not to drive and talk,” he said. “And so we’re giving you one year. There will be no citations written for one year.”
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Under current law, fines start at $25 for the first offense. Wood’s bill would raise that to $50 after one year, with a one-point violation on the individual’s driving record. A second violation would have a $100 fine, with another two-point violation. A third and subsequent violations would mean a three-point violation, as well as a $150 fine.
The House amended the bill to make any issue arising from holding an electronic device a secondary violation, not a primary violation. That means a police officer can only issue a citation if there’s another valid reason to stop the driver. Holding an electronic device cannot be the sole reason for stopping the driver, such as swerving while holding a phone.
A similar bill was introduced and debated earlier in the session but failed to move past the House after Democrats expressed concerns about the law being used for profiling purposes. Democrats also criticized the removal of a provision on data collection in traffic stops.
Rep. A.J. McCampbell, D-Linden, said that after discussion, they realized the profiling issue had been resolved initially.
“We found out as we went through this process, that the profiling issue was answered in the original bill,” he said.
A similar bill was filed by former Rep. K.L. Brown, R-Jacksonville, last year. It did not pass.
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