For years, the Alabama Legislature has fought over bills to punish drivers who use their cell phones or other communication devices while behind the wheel.
But on the last day of session, a bill finally made it to the exit and now awaits a signature from Gov. Kay Ivey to become state law.
Rep. Randy Wood, R-Anniston, picked up the bill in the House this year, but failed to get it through in an early-session vote. Sen. Jabo Waggoner, R-Vestavia Hills, finally got the same bill through the Senate, bringing it back to the House.
It is already illegal for a driver to write, send or read a text message while driving. This bill makes it unlawful to hold or support a phone with any part of the driver’s body, including while on a phone call, as well as watching, viewing, recording or capturing a picture or video.
One of the early arguments in the House was over whether this would be a primary violation (meaning an officer can see a violation and pull the driver over) or a secondary violation (meaning the traffic stop must be initiated for some other reason). In that first House debate, Wood said he thought it would be a secondary violation despite the language of the bill clearly stating it would be a primary violation.
The House voted to change that, so drivers will not be able to be stopped by police merely for talking on the phone while driving — they can only stop drivers for swerving, failing to use a turn signal or some other traffic violation and can only then charge that the driver was using the phone unlawfully.
“We’re giving the people of Alabama one full year before any citations are written,” Wood said. “We want to have people realize how dangerous it is to drive while talking on the phone. There ain’t none of us can do it … When I was a youngster coming up, my mother taught me driving was a full-time job.”
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.