New state law tightens cell phone use in vehicles

Published 7:30 am Wednesday, July 26, 2023

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For years, safety experts have instructed drivers to put down their cell phone. Now, a new law in Alabama tightens the rules, and penalties, for holding a cell phone while behind the wheel.

The new distracted driving law was guided through the legislative process by state Sen. Jabo Waggoner of Vestavia Hills, whose 18-year-old son was killed in a distracted driving accident in 1979. Waggoner has been a long-time advocate for strong driving laws and hopes the new law will help cut down on similar distracted-driving tragedies in the state.

More than 3,500 people were killed nationwide in 2021 in crashes involving distracted drivers, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. More than 362,000 were injured.

The updated Alabama law builds on a prior prohibition that made texting while driving illegal. Under the new law, just holding a phone while driving is a secondary violation, with some exceptions, such as making an emergency call to the police or the fire department. That means law enforcement can’t pull you over for talking on the phone, but they can fine you for it after stopping you for another violation.

The cost is $50 for a first offense, $100 if you’re caught again within 24 months, and $150 if caught a third time in the same period. In addition to these fines, points would be added to the driver’s record.

The new law doesn’t prohibit putting a phone on speaker and using it hands-free while driving. Using Bluetooth continues to be permitted.

— This story originally appeared online at Alabama NewsCenter.