Huntsville City Council Postpones Vote on Cell Phone Driving Ban Ordinance
The Huntsville City Council debated a proposed new ordinance last week that would strengthen the restrictions against using cell phones while driving in Huntsville, Alabama. Introduced by City Councilman David Little, Ordinance 2023-624 would implement several measures to protect people on roadways from distracted drivers.
In summary, the proposed city-wide law states that no person shall operate a vehicle while doing any of the following:
- using a cell phone to write, send, read, or in any way engage in a text-based communication;
- watching, recording, or taking a video or photo;
- Using a cell phone with your hands, even to talk on the phone.
In other words, using your phone in any way with your hands while driving would be illegal in the city limits of Huntsville, Alabama.
Exceptions to Ordinance Banning Use of Cell Phones While Driving in Huntsville
There are numerous exceptions to the proposed ban. For example, any emergency services professional, such as a police offer or paramedic, could still use a cell phone while driving. The law also makes clear that using a cell phone via an earpiece or Bluetooth is completely legal, so long as the use of the cell phone is completely hands-free. The law also permits a driver to use their cell phone with their hands if they are parked on the side of the road or are in neutral or park.
To see the full list of exceptions, review the full proposed ordinance here.
Why the Postponement on the Vote by City Council?
According to AL.com’s reporting, city councilman Devyn Keith voiced several concerns that resulted in postponement of the vote. Councilman Keith’s concerns focused on how the proposed ordinance would allow law enforcement to initiate a traffic stop based solely on their account of seeing a cell phone in a driver’s hands. In response, City Administrator John Hamilton admitted the ordinance would be difficult to enforce. Councilwoman Jennie Robinson proposed delaying the vote to allow input from the Huntsville Police Department, presumably to discuss enforcement issues.
Currently, the vote on the proposed ordinance is scheduled for the next session of September 28th.
Difference Between Alabama State Law and the Proposed Huntsville Ordinance
In the summer of 2023, the Alabama state legislature passed and Governor Kay Ivey signed into law SB 301, which is similar to Huntsville’s proposed ordinance. (To learn more about this state law, read our blog post from July 2023: Alabama’s New Law About Cell Phone Use While Driving.) However, there is one very important difference between the state law and Huntsville’s proposed ordinance.
Huntsville’s proposed ordinance would allow a law enforcement officer to initiate a traffic stop solely for the reason for observing someone holding a cell phone while driving. Alabama’s state law about cell phone use while driving only considers using a cell phone while driving a “secondary offense,” which only allows law enforcement to issue a citation if the driver is pulled over for another violation.
In other words, unlike most other areas of the state, law enforcement officers in Huntsville would be able to initiate a traffic stop for the sole reason of seeing a driver with a cell phone in their hands. However, the proposed ordinance clearly states that law enforcement cannot search a vehicle solely because of a violation of the ordinance.
Penalties for Violating Huntsville Proposed Ordinance Banning Use of Cell Phones While Driving
The proposed ordinance sets forth penalties for violations, with the penalties increasing for each citation:
- For the first offense, there is a fine of $100.00 or imprisonment of no more than ten days;
- For the second offense, within a 24-month period of time after the first offense, there is a fine of $200 or imprisonment for no more than 30 days;
- For the third offense, within a 24-month period of time after the prior two offenses, there is a fine of $300 or imprisonment of no more than three months.
We will all have to wait until September 28th to see whether Huntsville will adopt the proposed ordinance.