— From staff and wire reports
Beginning today, Alabama drivers can be ticketed for texting, tweeting or emailing while driving. The ban — which bars texting except to call emergency services or use of a navigational system — is aimed at saving lives.
The law targets an array of wireless devices, including handheld cellular telephones, text-messaging devices, personal digital assistants, standalone computers or any other similar wireless devices that are readily removable from a vehicle and is used to write, send, or read text or data.
The first offense carries a $25 fine; the second a $50 fine; and the third, or subsequent, a $75 fine. Also, for each offense, a two-point violation would be placed on the offender’s driving record.
Because texting is just one way drivers travel distracted, the ban may not lower the accident rate.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety recently found that distracted driving wrecks increased after texting bans.
“We don’t know from the study itself why it happened, but one theory is that the laws are so well publicized that drivers, in trying to conceal the fact they are texting, move their phones down below window level, taking their eyes off the road even longer,” said Russ Rader, spokesman for the institute.
The problem is distracted driving, of which texting is only one symptom.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 3,092 people were killed and 416,000 were injured natiowide in 2010 by all manner of distracted driving, including cellphone use, makeup application, eating and other activities.
State troopers received no special training to prepare for the law change.
“We are doing what we have always done in terms of distracted driving,” said Trooper Curtis Summerville, public information officer at the Huntsville trooper post. “We are noticing if they cross the center line, run off the road of run a red light. “
Alabama’s texting ban is a primary law, meaning an officer does NOT have to have another reason to stop a vehicle before citing the driver for texting.
Law-enforcement officers can pull a motorist over for texting or for showing any signs of distracted driving. However, a law-enforcement officer would have to see a driver texting in order to cite him or her for texting, Summerville said.
“With the seatbelt law, which is a secondary law, a motorist had to commit a secondary violation before we could pull them over,” Somerville said. “With the texting ban we can pull them over if we see it.”
Alabama is the 39th state to ban texting while driving. Ten states and the District of Columbia have banned the use of any hand-held cellphones while driving, including California, Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Washington and West Virginia.