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Huntsville’s New Driving Ordinance About Cell Phone Use

October 20, 2023 General

The Huntsville City Council recently passed an ordinance that prohibits drivers from physically holding cell phones.  Huntsville’s new driving ordinance about cell phone use was originally proposed by Councilman David Little, whose motivation for the ordinance was related to his own personal experience of being injured in an accident with a distracted driver.

After debate amongst the councilmembers along with input from law enforcement, the ordinance underwent amendments and subsequently passed.

So what do Huntsville drivers need to know about the new driving ordinance about cell phone use?

Huntsville’s New Driving Ordinance Prohibits Physically Holding a Cell Phone

The primary effect of the new ordinance is to prohibit drivers from holding or “physically supporting” a cell phone with their body while operating a vehicle. The ordinance states, in pertinent part:

No person shall operate or drive a vehicle upon any highway or roadway while doing any of the following…(4) physically holding or otherwise supporting with any part of his or her body a wireless telecommunications device.

In addition to this broad prohibition, the ordinance also prohibits:

  • engaging in a text-based communication;
  • watching, taking, or capturing a photo or video with a cell phone;
  • talking on the phone if holding the phone with your hands.

In other words, in almost all instances, Huntsville drivers will be prohibited from using their phone with their hands while driving.

Are There Exceptions to the Ban on Holding Your Phone?

As with any traffic ordinance, yes, there are numerous exceptions.  To be exact, Huntsville’s new driving ordinance about cell phone use has eleven exceptions.  Here are the eleven exceptions summarized:

  1. Emergency services personnel are allowed to use a phone (paramedics, law enforcement, firefighters, etc.)
  2. Earpieces, Apple Watches, and devices mounted within the vehicle are permitted
  3. Drivers can use a cell phone with their hands to make an emergency phone call (i.e. calling 911)
  4. If stopped on the shoulder or “traffic is obstructed,” a driver can use their cell phone
  5. Using the GPS function; however, you cannot input your GPS destination while the vehicle is in motion
  6. Using the phone as a dashcam, but only if mounted on the dashboard or similar area
  7. Utility workers if responding to a utility emergency may use their phone with their hands
  8. If using the phone as an ignition interlock device
  9. Passengers are permitted to use their phones with their hands
  10. If the phone is mounted within the vehicle, the driver can touch the phone but only if the touching requires a single tap or swipe of the finger
  11. Doctors can use their phones if responding to an emergency medical situation

With all of the exceptions, how can we expect the Huntsville Police Department to enforce Huntsville’s new driving ordinance?  Huntsville citizens are asking legitimate questions on this issue.

We do expect enforcement to be difficult given the numerous exceptions.

What is the Penalty for Violating Huntsville’s New Driving Ordinance?

The penalties are fairly lenient.  A first time offender can be fined up to fifty dollars. A second offense within a two-year period can be fined up to one-hundred dollars.  A third offense can get you a fine of one-hundred and fifty dollars, along with mandatory community service.

The original version of the ordinance provided for a penalty of jail time after the third offense.  However, the City Council removed the jail time provision after extensive debate and revisions.

Can Drivers Be Pulled Over for Violating the Ordinance?

Yes.  Drivers would be subject to a police traffic stop for the sole reason of violating the ordinance.  Huntsville’s new driving ordinance makes using your cell phone with your hands a primary offense.  This means that Huntsville Police officers can initiate a traffic stop if the officer sees you holding your phone while driving.

This is the major difference between Huntsville’s new driving ordinance and the Alabama state law that passed earlier this summer.  However, Huntsville’s new driving ordinance will not go into effect until January 1, 2024.  In addition, Huntsville’s Police Department has said that police officers will only issue “verbal warnings” to drivers during the first six months of 2024.

Therefore, by July 1, 2024, Huntsville drivers must be fully aware of the consequences of this new driving ordinance. By July 1st of next year, drivers can be expected to be pulled over and issued a fine if they are holding their phone while driving.

Will the Ordinance Discourage Distracted Driving?

Distracted driving is now the leading cause of car accidents in Huntsville. As attorneys who represent injured people, we are hopeful that the new ordinance will discourage people from using a phone with their hands while driving. The fact that the ordinance makes a violation a primary offense will likely have some effect on Huntsville drivers.

One study done in 2021 about similar ordinances and their affect on traffic fatalities suggests Huntsville’s new driving ordinance will have a positive impact. The study done by Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children’s Hospital found:

 Hands-free laws have prevented about 140 driver deaths and 13,900 driver injuries annually in the U.S.