Statewide texting ban starts today

Published 12:01 am Wednesday, August 1, 2012



S tarting today, it’s against the law to text, email, update one’s Facebook status or tweet while driving.

Now, it will take “common sense” policing when enforcing, local law enforcement said.

Alabama is now the 38th state in the U.S. with a law banning texting and driving.

The fines aren’t steep – $25 for a first offense, $50 for a second, and $75 for a third. But coupled with being pulled over by law enforcement, getting two penalty points on your driver’s license and a possible auto insurance hike, it is more than inconvenient, said state Rep. Jim McClendon, R-Springville, who pushed the bill signed into law by the governor in May.

Entering a phone number and talking on the phone is still legal. Using a GPS navigation device will be legal, but programming it while driving is not.

And officers will be watching as motorists travel through Florala, Police Chief Sonny Bedsole said.

“Our officers are going to have to use common sense when enforcing this law,” Bedsole said. “If they witness a driver texting, then they are duty bound to enforce the law.”

Bedsole said if a driver elects to go to court over the charge rather than pay the fine, then the decision rests with the judge.

Sheriff Dennis Meeks agreed with Bedsole’s description of “common sense” policing.

“We’re going to enforce it to the best of our ability,” Meeks said of deputies with the Covington County Sheriff’s Office. “We do encourage people to not text and drive for all the apparent reasons – it takes your focus away from the road, not to mention it’s now against the law.

“Things can happen very quickly when you’re operating a vehicle,” he said. “Texting while driving is dangerous because it takes your focus away from your driving and it cuts down your reaction time to things that are happening on the road way.

“It’s just not safe,” he said.

Alabama State Troopers will also be watching for violators – just as they watch for violators of any law, said Trooper spokesman Charles J. Dysart.

Dysart said research shows distracted drivers can commit multiple offenses, such as drifting across lanes and driving into opposing lanes of traffic. Drivers “distracted by use of an electronic device” were a contributing factor in 1,256 crashes and five deaths in 2010, the latest available statistics, he said.

Texting and driving, however, is the one distraction attracting the most legal attention nationwide – mainly because it often involves younger, less experienced drivers, and it combines all the major distractions – eyes, hands and mind, said Despina Stavrinos, assistant professor in the Department of Psychology and Medicine at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

“We pick on text messaging because it is what researchers call the perfect storm – it involves all three,” Stavrinos said.