New state law seeks to penalize distracted driving

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In 2022, almost seven percent of all motor vehicle-related fatalities in Alabama were caused by distracted driving. The Alabama Legislature responded in 2023 by passing a law intended to slow the increasing number of people being killed by distracted drivers.

Beginning in June 2024, state and local law enforcement officers can issue tickets to anyone observed making a call while holding a cell phone, or while holding a cell phone to text, search the internet, use a video function or for other activities. In other words, cellular devices are no longer permitted in drivers’ hands, and if they are caught, they are subject to a misdemeanor traffic offense, a fine and points on their driving record.

Drivers can only use a single button or swipe of a finger to answer a call. The hands-free law was passed with a one-year grace period with written warnings until June 2024, when the grace period ends. Alabama’s new hands-free law is a secondary offense, meaning you first must be observed committing any other traffic offense to receive a citation.

“Distracted driving is one of the fastest growing safety issues on the roads today,” said Allison Green, Drive Safe Alabama coordinator for the Alabama Department of Transportation. “Distracted drivers are not just a threat to themselves; they are a danger to everyone else on the road.”

First offenses will cost drivers $50 and a point on their driving record. The second offense will increase to $100 and two points if the driver violates the hands-free law within 24 months of their first offense. And if drivers haven’t learned their lesson after three citations, it will cost them $150, and three points will be added to their driving record.

The new hands-free law was passed in memory of Leah Grace Tarvin, CiCi Lunsford and Jay Kendall, three Alabamians whose tragic deaths were concluded by investigations to be related to distracted driving.

ALDOT offers the following tips on how to go hands-free:

* Use hands-free technology. Use Bluetooth devices or dashboard mounts to keep your phone accessible but out of your hands.

* Plan ahead. Set GPS navigation and music playlists before starting your car to minimize distractions while you are driving.

* Silence notifications. Turn off notifications, use a “do not disturb” setting or put your phone in airplane mode so that you are not tempted to look at your phone while behind the wheel.

* Pull over if necessary. If you must use your phone, drive to a location safely off the road such as a parking lot before putting your phone in your hand.

* Put your phone away. The simplest way to comply with Alabama’s hands-free law is to ignore your phone. Place your phone in the glove compartment, in your purse or in the backseat. If your phone is out of sight, the road is first thing on your mind and in your sight.

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