Alaska rethinks texting & driving law

Alaska is reining in its texting & driving law to encourage police to actually enforce it.

State Sen. Kevin Meyer of Alaska

Senate President Kevin Meyer

Following the lead of Anchorage, the state’s largest city, the Legislature approved and sent to the governor a plan to make an electronic device offense a traffic violation instead of a class A misdemeanor, if no injury or death occurs.

Alaska’s distracted driving offenses currently range from class A misdemeanors (simple texting) to class A felonies (causing a death) with offenders subject to jury trials.

Fines under the new scheme would top out at $500.

A spokesman for state Sen. Kevin Meyer, the sponsor, said “very few people were ever penalized” because “the misdemeanor offense required prosecution and the involvement of the court system.” (Meyer is the Senate’s president.)

Meyer’s Senate Bill 123 was approved by the full Senate on March 16, with the House following suit April 17. The act has been sent to Gov. Bill Walker.

On Jan. 1, Anchorage established its own $500 fine for texting & driving, in a move also designed to encourage more prosecutions. The offense moved from criminal court — as it was under the existing state distracted driving law — to the local traffic court.

The state of Alaska has no limits on use of cell phones.

Approval of SB 123 came in the final hours of the Legislature’s two-year session.

Read more about Alaska’s distracted driving laws.

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