A bill that would have outlawed operating a motor vehicle with a cell phone in your hands was narrowly defeated Tuesday in the Alabama House of Representatives. House Bill 90 was sponsored by state Rep. K.L. Brown, R-Jacksonville, who has carried similar legislation for the last four years.
Brown said that his legislation was based on legislation passed by the state of Georgia which banned operating cell phones and other devices and saw the accident rate and the number of automobile accidents decline significantly in the following 17 months. Tennessee also saw a decline following the passage of similar legislation.
Using hands-free devices such as Bluetooth devices or cars whose sound systems sync with phones would be legal.
Brown said that traffic fatalities used to be mostly caused by people driving intoxicated, now it is more due to distracted driving.
Several Democrats expressed concerns that Black Alabamians are arrested more often for traffic violations and that more stops by law enforcement of minorities could lead to tragic consequences.
Rep. Tashina Morris, D-Montgomery said that she is afraid every night that her son could be pulled over and mistakenly shot by police.
Rep. Barbara Drummond, D-Mobile, said that there is a great fear of being pulled over by the police in the place community.
Brown said that on a first offense violators would pay a $100 fine and get docked 2 points on their driving record. The penalty would rise to $200 and 2 points for a second offense and $300 and 3 points for the third and subsequent offenses.
When asked if someone’s driver’s license could be suspended for this, Brown said, “after multiple offenses.”
Brown said that texting while driving was already illegal in Alabama.
Drummond said that Black parents fear getting that call that their child has been shot by the police.
“I don’t want anyone to get that call that their child has been killed in an auto accident,” Brown responded. “I have lost a daughter to a vehicle accident.”
An amendment was added to the bill that would have exempted law enforcement, paramedics, firefighters and other first responders from the bill.
An amendment was also added to the bill that would have allowed people to use their phones on speakerphone.
Rep. A. J. McCampbell, D-Livingston, said: “Not everyone has the money to drive the newest vehicle,” adding that he drives a 1987 Mazda pickup truck and has a device that clamps to the sun visor.
State Rep. Jamie Kiel, R-Russellville, said that people have accidents because they are eating and drinking while driving, putting on makeup and eyeliner, playing with a pet or reading a book while they are driving.
“Where do you draw the line?” Kiel said. “How far do you go to protect people from themselves?”
The House voted down House Bill 90 on a 47 to 48 vote. Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon, R-Monrovia, said: “This was the closest vote of the session. It was the closest vote of the last couple of sessions.”
Wednesday will be day 20 of the 2021 Legislative Session.