He proposed a new ordinance that would establish a driving-while-distracted offense which could bring fines -- from $25 for a first offense to $500 for a three-time offender.
“The intention of this is to address the multiple infractions we see day-to-day,” Jenkins said. “It goes beyond texting. It addresses the guy that is eating a hamburger and talking on the phone and looking at his GPS all at the same time while driving down the road. It’s the woman that is putting on her eye makeup while driving down the road.”
The ordinance defines the offense as driving “recklessly or heedlessly while distracted or in willful, wanton, reckless or negligent disregard for the rights or safety of persons or property, or without due caution and circumspection.”
The language, Jenkins said, was borrowed from an ordinance in Scottsboro. Jenkins said he wanted to give some teeth to the state law that bans texting while driving.
The ordinance had its second reading at the council meeting on Tuesday, but the councilmen, not sure about the meaning of the proposal’s wording, decided to table the ordinance to allow the city attorney the opportunity to review the law.
What is driving while distracted? Councilman Ben Little and Councilman Herbert Palmore wanted to know.
“Distracted by what?” Little asked. “Distracted by dropping or eating a hamburger?… Distracted by reading a newspaper?”
Palmore asked why the ordinance didn’t read “driving while texting.”
“I don’t understand what we’re talking about here,” asked Palmore, a former Alabama state trooper. “If they’re distracted and they run off the road and they hit something, the officer can’t write no citation anyway because he didn’t observe their action.”
It’s too broad, Little and Palmore agreed.
Chief Layton McGrady said he was satisfied with the wording of the ordinance.
“The problem with texting while driving is it’s hard to prove,” McGrady said. “Our Legislature’s passed it, but it’s more of a feel good thing.”
With the distracted-driving law, all an officer has to see is someone driving erratically. They might be doing anything that distracts them -- reading the newspaper, eating, changing the station on their radio, he said. It would all be covered under the ordinance.
And it’s not the same as reckless driving, which would be an intentional act. This would just be someone not paying attention to their driving and creating a danger to themselves or other drivers, McGrady said.
Distracted driving would be a stand-alone charge, McGrady said. He believes it would not be a charge used very often, but one that could help prevent accidents.
“They’re trying to change people’s habits,” McGrady said.
The proposed ordinance was tabled with a 3-2 vote,with Jenkins and Mayor Gene Robinson voting against tabling the measure.
In other business, the council:
-- Unanimously approved two contracts for a total of $44,000 toward the design and property title research necessary to expand the Chief Ladiga Trail into Anniston.
-- Authorized an agreement with the Alabama Planning and Development Commission for the Anniston Express Fixed Route System for $387,273.
-- Amended the 2012 budget to add $1.5 million in sales and use taxes, increasing the Public Works budget by $400,000 and the Parks and Recreation budget by $200,000 and creating a budget surplus of $313,460. Little voted against the amendment, saying he didn’t agree with increasing the Public Works budget.
-- Approved a donation of $5,000 toward the construction of the official state memorial for law enforcement, firefighter, Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans in Anniston.
-- Approved renaming the Anniston Sports Complex Soccer Fields the James A. “Pappy” Dunn Soccer Complex
-- Approved renaming the baseball field in Nettles Park the Broom, Broadnax, Burke & Washington Memorial Field