Alabama passes bill prohibiting text messages, instant messages, emails while driving, becomes effective Aug. 1

Kendall Sinclair

Kendall Sinclair

May 9, 2012 – Land Line

GRAIN VALLEY, Missouri , May 8, 2012 (press release) – The list of states to prohibit all drivers from text messaging while behind the wheel just got a little longer.

The National Safety Council says driver distractions, as well as alcohol and speeding, are leading factors in serious injury crashes. The council estimates that 28 percent of all traffic crashes – or at least 1.6 million crashes – each year are caused by drivers using cellphones. An additional 200,000 crashes annually involve drivers who are texting.

In response to safety concerns, Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley signed into law Tuesday, May 8, a bill to prohibit sending text messages, instant messages and emails while driving. It takes effect Aug. 1.

The Yellowhammer State is the 38th state to act to outlaw the distracted driving practice in recent years. Idaho and West Virginia already acted this year to prohibit drivers from text messaging while at the wheel.

Effective July 1, law enforcement in both states can enforce the bans as a primary offense, meaning drivers could be cited solely for violating the rule.

The Alabama law also authorizes primary enforcement. Offenders would face $25 fines. Subsequent offenses would result in escalating fines. In addition, two penalty points would be added to offenders’ licenses for each violation.

“Signing this bill sends a message that drivers need to focus on driving – not on sending a text,” Bentley said in prepared remarks.

In Ohio, the Senate voted 25-8 to endorse a bill that would forbid sending text messages while driving. It now heads back to the House for approval of changes.

The amended version of the bill would limit texting violations to secondary offenses, meaning an officer first would have to cite the driver for another violation. House lawmakers endorsed primary enforcement.

“Like Ohio’s seat belt law, by making texting while driving a secondary offense we hope reinforces to drivers the dangers of doing this act, without having to fine them,” stated Sen. Tom Patton, R-Strongville.

Another change that must be worked out would affect the state’s youngest drivers. If approved, drivers under 18 could not talk or type on any hand-held electronic device.

Violations would be a primary offense. Offenders would face $150 fines. Repeat offenders would face double fines and possible license suspension.

A California bill is intended to increase the deterrent to engaging in distracted driving practices. The state already bars drivers from texting or talking on hand-held phones.

On the move in the Senate is a bill to raise fines from $20 to $50. The amount would equate to about $310 after court costs.

Repeat offenders would face $100 fines – up from $50. With fees added the fine would top out at about $530. In addition, repeat offenses would be considered moving violations that would result in one point being added to offenders’ licenses.

The state’s youngest drivers would also come under increased scrutiny. Drivers under 18 now are forbidden to use any type of cellphone, pager, text messaging device or laptop while at the wheel.

Violations are a secondary offense. However, the bill would authorize primary enforcement.

Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, said that current rules work well, but the stricter punishment is needed to reinforce that “no phone call or text is worth the cost of a life.”

Also targeted by the bill are bicyclists. Texting or talking on a phone while biking could result in $20 fines with no fees added.

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