Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Starting June 15, Alabama drivers can get ticketed for holding phone while driving

CW / Caroline Simmons
The Tuscaloosa Police Department operates a joint precinct with The University of Alabama Police Department on the Strip.

Alabama drivers will be ticketed for operating a vehicle with their cell phones in hand under certain circumstances after a distracted driving law passed in June 2023 begins enforcement Saturday. The law amended a previous texting and driving law to add additional prohibitions against technology usage while driving.

Tuscaloosa Police Department spokesperson Stephanie Taylor said the department will enforce the new law to the same extent as all other traffic laws.

“The old law that only banned texting and driving was difficult to enforce because it was difficult to prove what a driver was actually doing with their phone when the officer observed them,” Taylor wrote in an email statement.

The statute prohibits distracted driving, which it defines as “crossing in and out of a traffic lane without using a turn signal, swerving, or otherwise operating the vehicle in an impaired manner” while being distracted by an electronic device. 

Types of distraction include holding or physically supporting stand-alone electronic devices; holding a “wireless communications device”; writing, sending, or reading other text-based communications; or using devices in certain other ways, such as to watch a movie.

The law defines “wireless communications devices” as cell phones, stand-alone computers, personal assistants, GPS receivers and similar wireless devices. Exceptions include radios, subscription-based emergency communication devices, prescribed medical devices and in-vehicle systems such as those used for navigation.

Reading directions on a GPS and sending automatically transcribed messages with one’s voice are not prohibited by the law, so long as the devices are not physically held or supported by the driver or used in other potentially distracting ways listed in the law.

According to the Alabama Department of Transportation, use of cell phones while driving among teens in Alabama is common, with a quarter of teens sending at least one text every time they drive. Drivers who text are 23 times more likely to crash than those who do not.

The risk for college-aged students is also higher.

Drivers under the age of 25 face twice the risk of crashing when driving distracted compared to older drivers, said Boyi Zhuang, associate researcher at the Alabama Center for Insurance Information and Research housed in the Culverhouse College of Business. 

Zhuang published a paper in 2022 with the center’s director, Lawrence Powell, and other researchers seeking to estimate the risks of distracted driving through the use of mathematical modeling. The researchers concluded that distracted drivers are 3 times more likely to cause a fatal crash than focused ones and that distracted drivers make up 3-4% of all drivers on the road at a given time.

While many focus on cell phone use as the worst source for distraction, Powell said other sources of distraction can be just as, if not more, dangerous.

“Certainly it’s bad, but it’s maybe not as bad as eating a cheeseburger or smoking a cigarette or having a large number of people in your car, having your car filled to capacity with passengers, because you have less control over what they’re going to do,” Powell said.

Though some other causes of distracted driving remain unaddressed by the Alabama legislature, Powell commended the body for passing the law after many failed attempts to enact similar laws against holding cell phones while driving.

“We think the law was well reasoned and well placed and that it’s on net a good thing,” Powell said.

ALDOT advises Alabamians to avoid distracted driving by storing their phone in the backseat to avoid temptation to use it, stopping safely or pulling off the side of the road to do anything that requires diverting attention from the road, and using hands-free devices for phone calls.

Taylor said the Tuscaloosa Police Department hopes the result of the distracted driving law will be similar to that of laws that established and then lowered the maximum blood alcohol content for a DUI and required drivers and front-seat passengers to wear seat belts.

“Over time, driver behavior changed, and that’s what we hope to see with this law,” Taylor wrote. “Our officers work too many accidents with serious injuries that could’ve been prevented.”

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