It's also a refreshing change for a state whose driver-safety laws lack muscle or mettle.
This week, a group of insurance, consumer, safety and medical organizations — the Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety — gave Alabama a tepid score for the strength of its safe-driving laws.
Once again, Alabama is ranked among the 10 worst states; the culprits this time are the age learner's permits can be issued (15) and the need to restrict cell-phone use by teen drivers. That the state scored high on making motorcyclists wear helmets and requiring new teenage drivers to have six months of supervision couldn't keep Alabama from trailing 41 other states overall.
In other words, Alabama laws that successfully promote driver safety are rare, and those weak or ineffective are common.
So, kudos to Jacksonville's council members, whose level-headed handling of this burgeoning issue deserves commendation. Not only did the Calhoun County college town manage to do what no other city in the state has done, it showed the Alabama Legislature the correct path for the 2010 session.
Some Montgomery legislators are taking note. State Rep. Jim McClendon, R-Springville, prefiled a texting-ban bill that is already making its way through the Legislature. It passed the House Public Safety Committee on Wednesday, the first of many steps before it becomes law.
Nineteen states already outlaw texting while behind the wheel. Nine others ban the practice for teen or novice drivers. Alabama, typically slow to respond, isn't in that mix. Likewise, Alabama is not one of the six states that ban drivers from making cell-phone calls — another worthwhile discussion for safety advocates.
Last year, the Alabama House passed a bill that would have created a statewide texting ban, but the legislation failed in the state Senate. Critics attacked the bill, saying the law would be hard to enforce and would create more problems than solutions for traffic cops.
A recent Associated Press survey showed a majority of House and Senate members support the texting ban. That said, the Legislature should pass that bill, and Gov. Bob Riley should sign it into law. It could save lives.
Government cannot legislate drivers to pay attention while they're behind the wheel. Drivers will eat their lunch, sip their coffee or fiddle with the car radio. Sometimes, those distractions cause mishaps on the road, or worse.
But activities that undeniably distract drivers and make roads unsafe should be banned. Texting may be an instant and constant part of our lives, but it can wait until the car is safely parked.