Texting while driving in Alabama will be illegal in August 2012. Drivers should note that texting while driving is a primary offense, which means police can pull drivers over for texting. Talking on a handheld cell phone is a secondary offense – drivers can be ticketed for handheld cell phone use, but only if they are pulled over for some other reason. Drivers caught texting or using a cell phone in Alabama will pay $25.00 for the first offense and second offense will be $50.00. Fines will be up to $75.00 for third and subsequent offenses.
Law enforcement officials have expressed some concern about the ability to enforce texting while driving laws as a primary offense. Lt. Brian Gilham, a police officer in Vestavia Hills, Alabama, told WBRC-TV that noticing a texting driver might be difficult. Lt. Gilham has experience enforcing these laws, because Vestavia Hills passed a local ban on texting almost a year ago. Lt. Gilham says that most texting-while-driving violators are pulled over for something else, such as swerving, speeding, or erratic driving.
In Pennsylvania, where texting and driving was banned on March 8, 2012, police officers tend to agree with Lt. Gilham. Lt. Gregory Thomas, an officer in Lower Allen Township, Pennsylvania, pulled a driver over for texting, but found that the driver was actually filing her nails – a risky-but-not-illegal behavior. According to Lt. Thomas, spotting a texting driver is tricky unless an officer is positioned above the driver and can get a clear view inside the vehicle.
Statistics show 16% of drivers 20 years and under who have been involved in fatal accidents were reported to have been distracted while driving. Distracted drivers increase the rate of accidents throughout the country. In 2010, the National Safety Council estimated 1.6 million crashes each year involve drivers texting and using cell phones.
Texting-while-driving tickets can increase a driver’s car insurance costs, but legislators and insurers alike hope that the ban will cause an overall decrease in accidents, which should reduce insurance premiums for all drivers. Alabama’s average car insurance rates are currently among the lowest in the nation.
by Jennifer S. O’Reilly
Photo credit: Oregon Department of Transportation