At least that’s the intent of a new state law directed against drivers in Alabama who use their phones to text while operating a vehicle. As of Wednesday it became illegal to do that as a new ban signed into law in May officially took effect.
“It’s just like any other law,” said Calhoun County Chief Deputy Matthew Wade. “The officer has the full authority if he sees someone texting to make a traffic stop and write them a ticket if that’s what the person deserves.”
Calhoun County Sheriff Larry Amerson said there will be legal training with the District Attorney’s Office on Friday to get “the best guidance possible” on enforcing the ban, but for now the basics are anyone texting while driving will be required to pay a fine.
The law doesn’t ban making phone calls or texting while the car is in park or stopped.
Tickets for first time offenders are $25. The second time is $50 and third and after is $75. Additionally, a texting-while-driving ticket is recorded with the Alabama Department of Public Safety, which could drive up insurance rates for offenders.
But more importantly, Wade said, the law is designed to warn drivers that texting is dangerous to anyone sharing the road.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, “distraction-affected” driving caused 3,092 deaths in the United States in 2010. Among the population 20 and under, 11 percent of traffic-related accidents resulted from drivers distracted by their cell phones.
“You drive behind somebody who’s texting and they drive like they’re drunk, swerving all over the road,” Wade said. “But they’re not intoxicated, they’re in-text-icated.”
Alabama joins 38 other states that have already banned texting while driving, but there has been some question as to how effective the laws have been on cutting back on distracted driving and accidents on the roadways. A study published by the Highway Data Loss Institute in 2010 actually concluded that in California, Louisiana, Minnesota and Washington, accidents involving a driver texting increased after the states passed laws banning the practice.
It’s too early to tell what effect the law will have in Alabama, but Anniston resident Rasheedah Toyer said she thinks the law makes a lot of sense, especially since she might be one of the people targeted by the ban.
“I admit I’ve been guilty of it,” said Toyer. “I definitely will stop now. I don’t need a ticket.”
Toyer said she knew texting while driving was unsafe, but said checking her phone is a “temptation” that’s hard to kick.
“I’ll do it from time to time at a traffic light or stop sign,” she said. “It’s not anything I need to know right away or anything, but I still do it.”
Anniston resident P. Pope said he thinks the ban “will save lives,” but had concerns with how law enforcement officials might interpret the law.
“How can they tell if you’re at a traffic light if you’re texting or just dialing the phone?” said Pope, explaining he often makes calls on his wireless headset while driving. “They’re just going to write you a ticket anyway.”
But Ohatchee resident Al Haynes, who said his phone was so old it “came from a cave” and can’t send or receive texts, said nobody should be doing anything in their car except driving.
“You need to pull off to the shoulder if you want to do that,” Haynes said. “I see people doing all sorts of things, like putting on makeup right on the interstate. I honk at them and yell ‘Get off the road.’”
Staff writer Brian Anderson: 256-235-3546. On Twitter @BAnderson_Star.