Hands-Free Driving Bill Passes in Birmingham 2019

Posted in Alabama Laws,Car Accidents on June 3, 2019.

Car accident injuries and fatalities have been a growing concern for public safety in Alabama in recent years. In the country, all 50 states have passed some type of distracted driving law, with the goal of encouraging drivers to focus 100% of their attention on the road. In 2017, distracted driving took at least 3,166 lives in the U.S., according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. In Alabama, the average driver has higher than a 33% chance of being in a car accident that causes injuries or death. A newly passed measure in Alabama will prohibit drivers from using handheld cellphones and other devices while driving.

Alabama’s Distracted Driving Laws

The only statewide distracted driving law in Alabama is a ban on texting and driving. According to state law, it is illegal to read, type, or send text messages and other electronic messages using a handheld cellphone in the state of Alabama. Motorists who are under the age of 18 and operating the vehicle with a Stage II driver’s license cannot use a handheld cellphone for any reason while driving – talking or texting. Other drivers, however, may talk on handheld devices, except in cities with different municipal laws.

Alabama’s New Ban on Handheld Device Use

On March 23rd, 2019, the Alabama House committee passed what they call “CiCi’s Law,” in honor of Birmingham resident Camryn “CiCi” Callaway, who died before her 18th birthday because of texting and driving. CiCi was using a handheld device when she crashed into the back of a commercial truck on I-65 South. CiCi’s mother went on to advocate for better roadway safety, spreading awareness of the dangers of texting and driving and supporting the bill that would ban drivers from using handheld phones for any reason (besides emergencies) while driving.

It is currently legal in Alabama to use a handheld device for something other than electronic messaging – including dialing a number, making a phone call, watching videos, and even scrolling through social media. While technically drivers cannot engage in any behavior that compromises their ability to safely control the vehicle, the law does not specifically ban handheld device. CiCi’s law will change that, improving upon the state’s universal distracted driving law to include holding a device while driving for any reason.

Rep. Allen Farley (R-McCalla) sponsored the new distracted driving measure, along with a similar bill Sen. Jim McClendon (R-Springville) introduced to the Sensate. The bill proposed will make it illegal to drive while physically holding or supporting with any part of the body a wireless telecommunication device or standalone electronic device while operating a motor vehicle. While drivers may still make phone calls behind the wheel, they must do so using hands-free devices if the bill passes the State Senate.

Exceptions to the New Hands-Free Rule

If the bill becomes law, Alabama will be one of 16 states (plus Washington, D.C.) that ban handheld cellphone use while driving. The new bill would be a primary law, meaning police do not need another reason to conduct a traffic stop. Any driver the police catch using a handheld device while driving in Alabama could face a $50 fine for a first offense, $100 for a second offense, and $150 for every offense thereafter. The bill includes language that allows first-time offenders to obtain charge dismissal if they can show evidence to a judge that they have since purchase a Bluetooth or other hands-free device.

The only exceptions to the new handheld cellphone rule would be if the driver needed to use a handheld device for emergency purposes. Law enforcement officers and first responders may also continue using handheld devices within the scope of their employment. Drivers could also continue to use handheld devices as navigational tools behind the wheel. The bill passed the House committee, and is set to undergo a vote before the full House before going to the State Senate.