Alabama: Cell phone laws, legislation

Last updated: August 27, 2014
Distracted driving news: About 150 tickets have been written in the 11 months since Alabama’s long-awaited texting & driving law went into effect Aug. 1, 2012. State troopers handed out most of the citations.

alabama state flag for cell phone driver storyGov. Robert Bentley approved state Rep. Jim McClendon’s plan after years of debate and delay in the Legislature.

The Alabama texting law calls for primary enforcement. Police are able to stop and cite any drivers they see texting. In mid-May 2013, the Alabama Department of Public Safety said 155 citations had been written under the Alabama distracted driving law.

Fines: $25 (first offense) then $50 and $75. Two points against driver’s license. Adult drivers are allowed to use handheld cell phones in the state, but teens are not.

Read more about passage of the Alabama texting law.

Alabama became the 38th state to ban texting while driving.

Current prohibitions:

  • Text messaging prohibited for all drivers in the state of Alabama.
  • Drivers under 18 with restricted licenses (GDL) barred from using cell phones and text messaging.

Distracted driving notes (2013):
Law officers are reporting difficulty in stopping and citing text-messaging drivers, as is typical in states that still allow use of handheld cell phones and use of GPS apps. Officers have to determine if a driver is texting or simply dialing a phone number: “There seem to be some awful long phone numbers out there,” one police chief said.

2012 distracted driving notes:
Anniston is considering a general distracted driving measure that would bring fines as high as $500. “It addresses the guy that is eating a hamburger and talking on the phone and looking at his GPS all at the same time while driving down the road,” says Councilman Jay Jenkins, who proposed the law. Jenkins agreed to table the plan Sept. 11 in order to insert more specific language.

Huntsville is considering repeal of its texting & driving ordinance because of the new Alabama state law. The city’s 2010 law allows only secondary enforcement, while the state law gives police the ability to stop and cite people who text & drive for that reason alone. The city’s fines are higher, but the state is assessing 2 points.

The plan to ban texting and driving in Alabama cleared the House and Senate on April 26, winning unanimous approval.

This was a big victory for Rep. Jim McClendon, one of the nation’s most persistent lawmakers when it comes to distracted driving. McClendon, R-Springville, saw his distracted driving legislation rejected or ignored at least six times. In 2011 and 2012, McClendon’s texting and driving bills cleared the House only to die in the Senate.

“This will save lives on our highways, make our highways safer and protect our families,” McClendon said after the legislation received final approval April 26.

The House earlier approved a plan barring school bus drivers from using cell phones and other digital devices.

The Senate’s version of McClendon’s HB 2 added several exemptions, including ones for emergency workers and for drivers texting in an emergency. The rub probably was an exemption to allow texting if “normal traffic” is obstructed and the vehicle is in park or neutral. The compromise bill approved April 26 allows texting in a vehicle if it is “parked on the shoulder of the highway, road, or street.” The bill also exempts GPS use but not programming.

Another amendment that sought to add a host of other distracted driving behaviors (eating, make-up, etc.) didn’t come to a vote.

State Rep. Alvin Holmes, D-Montgomery, opposed text messaging legislation in the past but voted for HB 2 as it cleared the House on Feb. 21. “I saw a young lady come that close to death with an 18-wheeler because of texting,” he told the AP.

An amendment that would have given texting the same penalties as drunken driving was rejected during the House debate on HB 2.

“This is something the people want,” McClendon says of his plan to ban texting & driving. He points to state Republican party polling that shows 91 percent of people in Alabama support a texting ban. “That’s every race, every age,” he told the Anniston Star. “You’re really hard-pressed to get 90 percent of Alabamians to agree on anything.”

Sen. Jabo Waggoner, R-Vestavia Hills, expected a positive reaction to HB 2 or his Senate version of it. “The stock has gone up on that (texting) bill,” the Senate majority leader told the Birmingham News. It “will be given a higher priority in the Senate than it has in the past.”

Oxford has banned text messaging while driving, with fines up to $500 and the possibility of jail time. City Council approval came Feb. 14.

Rep. Joe Hubbard, D-Montgomery, said of his plan to ban cell phone use by school bus drivers: “At the end of the day, our children are our most precious commodity, and we must protect them.”

2012 distracted driving legislation (2012):
House Bill 2: Would outlaw text messaging via wireless telecommunications devices while driving in Alabama. Primary enforcement. Fines: $25 (first offense) then $50 and $75. Two points against driver’s license. Includes racial profiling safeguard. Favorable report by the Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee on Feb. 8. Amendment to toughen penalties rejected in a 67-15 vote Feb. 21. Approved unanimously by the full House on Feb. 21 and sent to the Senate, where it was amended and approved via a 24-7 vote taken April 24. Senate addition of exemptions to texting ban rejected by the House. Resolved by conference committee. The bill won unanimous approval from both houses April 26. Latest activity: Signed into law by the governor May 8. Takes effect in August. (McClendon)

HB 229: Prohibits use of cell phones by school bus drivers while vehicle is in motion. Includes email, cameras, computers, music devices, games. Also two-way radios. Fine up to $500 with up to 2 points against license. Approved by the House in an 83-1 vote March 14. (Hubbard)

2011 distracted driving legislation (dead):
HB 102: Would outlaw text messaging via wireless telecommunications devices while driving in Alabama. Primary enforcement. Fines: $25 (first offense) then $50 and $75. Two points against driver’s license. Includes racial profiling safeguard. Cleared the House Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee via a voice vote on March 9. Approved by the full House in an 86-2 vote on March 31, 2011, and transmitted to the Senate. Latest legislative action: Marked for “further consideration” in the Senate. (McClendon)

Distracted driving notes (2011):
The House approved Rep. Jim McClendon’s plan to ban text messaging while driving in Alabama in near-unanimous vote taken March 31. The bill then moved to the Senate, where it was marked for “further consideration.” The 2010 distracted driving measure, also from McClendon, died in the Senate after committee members rewrote it to favor plaintiffs in crash lawsuits (detail below).

HB 102 sponsor McClendon was asked during an April 27 Senate debate about the risks of racial profiling via a distracted driving law. “You’re talking about harassing kids, and I’m talking about saving lives. … I cannot stop police officers from stopping people unnecessarily, but I do know that texting while driving is as dangerous as drunk driving.” McClendon also dismissed concerns over enforcement by saying he sees people texting all the time — so why can’t police.

HB 102 includes a provision that all law enforcement agencies must provide monthly reports on the number of minority drivers stopped under the texting law. The Senate president cited racial profiling as one of the reasons to reject McClendon’s HB 35 of 2010.

Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, plans to amend McClendon’s HB 102 with an exemption for mounted GPS devices. The change would benefit car rental services and companies that have workers on the road, such as the Alabama Power Co., which requested the change.

Alabama is is second only to Mississippi in the number of teenage driving fatalities. The state Department of Public Health launched a campaign Aug. 26 to warn about the potentially fatal consequences of distracted driving for teens.

The new group Alabamians Against Distracted Driving has about 2,000 members, organizer Dee Fine says. Fine, a victim of a distracted driver, calls on the Kentucky Legislature to “have the courage to pass primary meaningful laws” against cell phone use and texting while driving.

City & country distracted driving laws:
At the local level, Alabama is one of the most active states in outlawing distracted driving. Ordinances against text messaging and using handheld cell phones while driving continue to proliferate due to inactivity at the state level.

Birmingham, Decatur, Huntsville, Montgomery, Madison, Vestavia Hills, Gadsden, Jacksonville, Roanoke and at least eight other communities in Alabama have banned texting while driving. The latest additions in 2011 are Scottsboro (January), Fairhope (March), Spanish Fort (April) and Florence (July).

Almost a year after Montgomery’s distracted driving ordinance went into effect, police have written about 275 tickets. Police started writing tickets for driving while text messaging or using a handheld cell phone in mid-September 2010. Enforcement remains secondary, meaning police cannot pull over violators for that reason alone. City Council Vice President Tracy Larkin, the bans’ sponsor, told the Montgomery Advertiser that primary enforcement should be coming soon. Fines are $50 (first), then $100/$500 with the possibility of jail time. Enforcement of Montgomery’s distracted driving law began Sept. 12, 2010, following the (6-1) City Council vote of Aug. 4.

Florence banned text messaging while driving on July 6, 2011. The law should be in force by August, with fines starting at $100. Councilman Andy Betterton pushed for the safety ordinance, which calls for primary enforcement.

Mobile is holding off on a local ordinance against use of wireless communications devices that aren’t hands-free. The is awaiting the outcome of legislation at the state level.

Spanish Fort approved its ban on texting while driving on April 18, 2011. Jasmine Lee, a Daphne student who reigns as the Alabama Junior Teen Queen, brought the idea to the City Council. The law has teeth: Serial offenders could end up spending three months in jail. Fines: $100 with a possibility of 10 days in jail (first offense), $200/30 days (second), $500, three months (subsequent offenses).

More Spanish Fort: The police chief sought primary enforcement for driving while texting and/or using handheld cell phones. “It serious enough to me and my guys, that if they are texting while driving, it is serious enough to pull them over for,” Police Chief David Edgar said in late March.

Scottsboro’s overall distracted driving ordinance went into full effect April 1, 2011, after a three-month waiting period. Fines range from $25-$100 (first offense) and then $50-$250. Protests from police derailed plans for a specific texting while driving ban. Mayor Melton Potter told council members: “This is something we need to look at and send a statement that it is a serious problem.”

Fairhope joins the list of Alabama cities that ban text messaging while driving. The City Council’s unanimous vote came on March 14. “If it saves one life, it’s well worth the effort we put into it,” Mayor Tim Kant says.

Athens has banned text messaging while driving in city limits. Fines $100 then $200 then $500, with the possibility of jail time. The ban includes various uses of wireless telecommunications devices, but cell phone use remains legal. Councilman Harold Wales pushed through the new Athens distracted driving ordinance, approved unanimously on Nov. 8, 2010. It was based on the texting laws passed in Huntington and Madison.

Daphne’s City Council outlawed texting while driving in a unanimous vote Nov. 1. Daphne prohibits drivers from using any wireless communications device to text or download data (cell phones, computers, iPhones, iPads, Blackberries, etc.). The ban was proposed by a high school student. Secondary enforcement. Fines: $100/$200 with the possibility of jail time.

Decatur has outlawed texting while driving, with the new ordinance set for primary enforcement. The Oct. 4 vote (4-1) bans use of all wireless handheld devices while behind the wheel, except for making phone calls. Drivers also are prohibited from entering data into GPS systems. Fines $100 then up to $500, jail time possible. The law took effect Dec. 1, 2010.

Huntsville and Madison adopted text messaging bans in September 2010. They call for secondary enforcement, meaning police need another reason to stop and cite a texting suspect. Fines $100 (first offense) up to $500 along with possible jail time.

Birmingham has banned texting while driving, setting a fine of $100. The unanimous vote came July 13. The city, ironically, is home to Sen. Rodger Smitherman, who derailed a statewide texting law in 2010 by inserting language into the bill that was seen as pork for attorneys (above).

Florence’s City Council rejected a plan to ban handheld electronic devices for drivers, although the vote in August 2010 was a tie. Councilman Andy Betterton said he may try again.

Decatur is considering a citywide ban on text messaging while driving. Councilman Ronny Russell is the sponsor.

Gadsden banned text messaging in city limits on June 22. Fines $25 (first), then $50/$75. “I think eventually there will be some kind of state guidelines,” the mayor said.

Jefferson County’s sheriff has placed “Don’t Text and Drive” bumper stickers on all patrol cars.

2010 cell phone, texting legislation (dead):
Alabama House Bill 35: Would ban text messaging and use of handheld GPS devices while driving on Alabama’s highways and roads. Fines of $25 (first offense) then $50 and $75, plus court costs and a point. Calls for primary enforcement, meaning police and deputies may pull over drivers when a violation of the law is suspected. Approved Jan. 13 by the public safety committee. Approved by the Alabama House on Jan. 19 (95-3 vote). Blocked in the Senate Judiciary Committee in a disagreement over language that made text messaging while in a crash a presumption of negligence. (McClendon)

SB 196: Would outlaw drivers’ use of text messaging devices and mobile GPS units. Primary enforcement. Fines $25/$50/$75. Died in Senate Judiciary Committee. (Waggoner)

2010 legislation notes:
Rep. Jim McClendon saw his HB 35 approved by the full House in a 95-3 vote. It was sent to the Senate, but did not advance there. He plans to return with the bill in 2011.

Sen. Jabo Waggoner, R-Vestavia Hills, attempted to sub McClendon’s bill for his own during debate in the Senate Judiciary Committee, but the chairman set aside the plan due to member disagreements over the primary status for enforcement. “I don’t understand anybody being against it,” Waggoner said. “To me, it is a no-brainer.”

The text messaging bill couldn’t get out of committee in the Senate due to the actions of President Pro Tem Rodger Smitherman, D-Birmingham, and Sen. Roger Bedford, D-Russellville. The texting-while-driving measure was rewritten by Bedford and other Senate attorneys to insert language that a text-messager was presumed at fault in an accident. They refused to let the bill advance without that language. A major state insurer had objected to that provision.

Days after the bill died, the Huntsville Times editorialized: “Opponents of this ban should be ashamed of themselves for killing this life-saving bill. … Bedford, Alfa (insurance group) and whoever else torpedoed the text ban law are wrong on this one. … (Their) excuses, frankly, don’t make sense.”

Smitherman said primary enforcement invites racial profiling by law officers.

McClendon had texting and handheld cell phone bills debated in the House and Senate in 2009. His HB 157 was approved in the House but failed in the Senate. “Fatalities on our highways are simple enough to prevent,” McClendon said. “If you don’t use seat belts, you put yourself at risk. When you text message, you put everybody at risk.”

Huntsville’s ban on texting while driving goes into effect Sept. 20. Mayor Tommy Battle is the sponsor. Fines will be $100 (first offense) and then up to $500 plus possible jail time. Enforcement is to begin 60 days after the July 22 vote, which was unanimous.

The Associated Press polled Alabama state legislators and found that 84 percent of House members approved the bill, and 79% of senators wanted to see it pass (most but not all legislators responded to the pollsters). The same poll taken last year produced similar numbers (below).

A coalition of state and federal transportation officials had vowed to see through Alabama legislation banning drivers’ use of cell phones and texting devices. They gathered at the Alabama Distracted Driving Summit in Birmingham on Dec. 4, 2009. The summit was co-sponsored by the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s University Transportation Center and the University Transportation Center for Alabama.

Ray LaHood, secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation, delivered the Distracted Driving Summit keynote. “There are proven strategies we can use to help combat this epidemic, but it will also take leadership and coordination to protect our communities and the traveling public. … (This summit) — the first of its kind outside Washington — helps continue the national conversation on distracted driving and will put more good ideas on the table to prevent needless deaths. I hope other states will follow its lead.”

“Secretary LaHood issued a challenge to the states to move quickly to address the issues of distracted driving,” said Russ Fine, director of the UAB Transportation Center. “Alabama’s response has been gratifying, as this summit has brought together leaders in state government, transportation safety, science, law enforcement and public policy to begin that process and provide a safer driving environment for all Alabamians.”

2009 distracted driving legislation (dead):
HB 157 would ban drivers from text messaging. Approved by House.

HB 282 seeks to restrict young drivers from using any “audio” hands-free or hand-held device that is not required for operation of the vehicle. Applies to drivers 16 years old or younger, or 17 years old who have been driving for less than six months.

2008-09 legislation notes:
Rep. Jim McClendon saw his text messaging bill clear the House in February 2009 but run into opposition in the Senate from Sen. Vivian Figures, D-Mobile, who wanted to water down the bill. “(The legislation) prohibits, writing, sending or reading text message while operating motor vehicle,” McClendon said in late April. “She wants to delete those words.”

McClendon’s bill to ban handheld cell phone use by drivers, HB 158, was defeated on a 5-3 vote. McClendon said he was pleased to get one of the driving safety bills through committee.

McClendon’s text messaging bill sought penalties starting at $25 and three points up to a 60-day suspension of the driver’s license after a fourth conviction.

Texting poll: An Associated Press poll taken during January shows that Alabama legislators are solidly in favor of a text-messaging law:

81 percent of House members responding said they would support a ban on text messaging while driving, while just 1 percent were opposed and 18 percent said they were undecided. In the Senate, 77 percent of respondents said they would support the bill, while 10 percent were opposed and 13 percent undecided.

Rep. McClendon, who heads a state safety committee, introduced HB 17, the 2008 bill banning drivers under 18 from using cell phones. * McClendon told Hands-Free Info that the legislative session ended with the bill stuck in committee, “blocked by chairman of rules Ken Guin, D-Walker County.” Greenhill said of the teen-targeted legislation: “The bill should address everyone or no one.”

HB 17 was endorsed by the Birmingham News: “Alabama legislators should place more restrictions on teen drivers, including a ban on their use of cell phones while behind the wheel. … No, it’s not good for any of us to be gabbing on cell phones when we’re steering a deadly weapon. But it’s certainly not good for inexperienced drivers to be doing so or, worse, to be sending text messages.”

Comments

  1. Hope it also specifies a ban of text messaging while driving also and not just talking on the phone. That is a current loop hole in CA.

  2. Hey Ron thanks for the comment. The senator in California said he wanted to fight one battle at a time, so he didn’t take on texting with the original cell legislation. He just filed a texting bill (June 19) for all drivers.

  3. James Lee says:

    RULES RULES RULES !

    This Is Why I left the Liberal State of California

    The Texting while driving law is just another way to ban cell phone use while driving

    What if I was calling someone while I was at a stop light and A cop pulled me over because He thought I was texting someone

    It is his word over yours! More Government intervention over safety.
    Ben Franklin said “Never sacrifice freedom for safety”

    Alabama needs to repeal the seat belt law and the helmet law and stop wasting time on more stupid laws

    Florida did the right thing by repealing the helmet law and vetoing the cell phone law.

  4. Henry Whisenant says:

    I think Alabama law makers and police should leed by example. I don’t think people should text and drive nor talk on the phone unless using hands free. But I don’t think any laws should be passed to ticket the public untill the police have regulations for cell phone usage. On certain nights in the town I live in, you can observe one police officer constantly spinning tires, speeding and not stopping at stop signs while talking on a cell phone, in a grant car that we the tax payers of Alabama payed for .

  5. safety is priceless, 25 bucks aint enough

  6. Carol Moore-Smith says:

    3 months ago, I was involved in an accident while riding my bicycle in my neighborhood. I was literally ran off the road by someone talking on a cell phone. I suffered broken ribs and collar bone and had to have surgery. I was out of work and literally down for 2 months. I am totally for banning the use of cell phones while driving….period. Oh, and yea, our law officers need to stay off the cells phones while driving as well.

  7. John Graham says:

    Hello,

    How can I help with this? In the last 6 months I have been literally pushed off the road by an oncoming driver who was on a cell phone talking away with one of the instances the person never even noticed that she had done what she had done.

    I have a 16, 14 and 12 year old, regardless of laws, they will not be allowed to text or talk on a phone while the car is on. However, I can help them from killing someone else but I am scared of the person that might kill them while being totally distracted while on the phone or texting while driving.

    I drive Route 280 daily and the number of people who are texting while on that busy road and the number of individuals who are driving 15 car lengths back from the person in front of him/her because the person is too tied up in a conversation on the phone is crazy. I make it a point to honk at people to alert them to what they are doing and sometimes the person doesn’t even look up from his/ her phone.

    Finally, while the school does not allow it, I see parents dropping kids off at school and before leaving the school yard dialing up on the phone and then obliviously driving through the parking lot not seeing a thing that is going on. Something needs to be done to help the schools enforce their own rules.

    Please let me know how I can help with this. I not only believe in no texting while driving but I also believe that we should go further and require hands free cell phone use. I know it would never pass, but I would have no issue with no cell phone use while driving, hands free or not, but let’s at least get what we can. These distracted drivers are going to kill themselves and worse, kill someone else the way that they drive when on a phone.

    I appreciate your pushing this forward.

  8. Gloria Gschwender says:

    I agree that the cell phone use should be against the law while driving. But I think it should include talking as well as texting on the phone while driving. There is no message that is important enough to get, when the possibility of loosing your life or taking someone else is the result. People lived for years with out the use of cell phones for communications with each other.

  9. WAYNE BROWN says:

    I pity the individuals that have a problem with rules. So you think the texting and cell phone law is stupid. Well, why stop there? Let’s do away with the speed limits. And forget about traffic lights. After all, they are interfering with my rights! And where does the government get off telling home owners to install fire detectors. How dare they! James Lee might want to re-look his history. Ben Franklin did not say “Never sacrifice freedom for safety”. Society without rules and guidelines is nothing but pure chaos!

Post a comment, join the conversation

*


6 − = one