Last month, Alabama Governor Kay Ivey signed into law SB301, which is legislation that prohibits drivers of cars from holding a phone while driving. Alabama thus joins several other states which punish drivers who are physically holding a cell phone while driving.
A person operates a vehicle in a distracted manner in violation of this section if the person is observed…physically holding a wireless telecommunications device.”
Punishment for Violating Alabama’s New Law About Cell Phone Use While Driving
The punishment for the first conviction of violating this law is a fine of only $50. A first conviction is entered on the driving record and is a one-point violation. If there is a second violation within two years of the first violation, the fine increases to $100 and it is a two-point violation on your driving record. Continuing violations increase the fines and point violations.
A violation of SB301 is considered a “secondary violation.” The ramifications of this classification are important. Pursuant to subsection (f) of the law, “a personal may not be placed under custodial arrest solely for a violation of this section.”
In addition, law enforcement cannot initiate a traffic stop solely because the driver is holding a cell phone. However, if the driver breaks any other traffic law, then the driver can be ticketed for both the traffic violation and a violation of SB301.
Exceptions to the Cell Phone Use Ban
The law expressly allows for hands-free use of phones while driving. Any “voice-based communication” through the cell phone is permissible. The laws saying that a driver can use a “single button or swipe of a finger” to initiate or terminate a voice-communication.
Another exception, which was in the previous laws banning texting and driving, allow for an exception of using the device for GPS purposes. However, unlike the prior GPS exception, it is now unlawful to “input navigation coordinates while operating a motor vehicle.” Therefore, the law allows drivers to hold a cell phone to get driving instructions after inputting the destination, but does not allow a driver to input the destination while driving. It is likely that enforcing such a vague provision will be difficult, if not impossible, for law enforcement officers.
Other exceptions include using the cell phone to obtain emergency services, using the phone while parked on the shoulder of the road, and carve-out exceptions for first response workers who are on the job, including:
- Utilities Workers
- Law Enforcement Officers
- Ambulance Drivers
- Doctors, if responding to an emergency medical situation
What Effect Will the New Law Have?
From a practical standpoint, the law will likely not have much effect on preventing people from holding cell phones. Since it is a secondary violation, drivers cannot be pulled over solely for holding their cell phone. If there is to be a real change we need to see in the future, law enforcement will have to be permitted to initiate a traffic stop if they see a driver holding a cell phone. SB301 does not give law enforcement this authority.
Distracted driving continues to be a serious problem in America, accounting for thousands of car accident injuries and deaths every year. We are hopeful the Alabama legislature will enact more stringent laws in the future. However, SB301 is a start in the right direction.