Texting ban effective Aug. 1

Published 10:50 pm Friday, July 27, 2012

By Whitley Kilcrease

It may be tempting to reach for a cell phone to text a friend while stuck in traffic or caught at a red light. However, texting from behind the wheel of a moving vehicle will be illegal under state law effective Aug. 1.

“I think it’s a nice effort,” Quinesha Townsy, from Troy, said. “I hope it really makes a difference.”

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The texting ban, which Gov. Robert Bentley signed into law on May 8, goes into effect next week and will prohibit sending text messages, instant messages and emails while a vehicle is in motion. This includes stops at traffic lights, stop signs, bumper-to-bumper traffic or when a vehicle is in a gear other than park or neutral.

The first offense carries a fine of $25, which doubles to $50 on second offense. A third or subsequent offense results in a fine of $75.

Texting while driving will become a primary offense in August, which means any officer reserves the right to stop a driver and issue citation without other offenses. Also, each offense is a two-point violation on a person’s driving record, which could result in higher insurance rates.

According to the Governors Highway Safety Association, Alabama joins 37 other states enforcing a similar texting ban.

Pike County Sheriff Russell Thomas said that law enforcement officers are going to be “understanding to a point.”

“If we observe it, we intend to address it,” Thomas said. “We aren’t trying to write a whole bunch of tickets. It’s about safety.”

Thomas urges motorists to be safe and use good judgment while driving. He suggests motorists pull safely off the highway or wait until they reach their destination to text.

“Most of the time it’s going to be young people,” Thomas said. “Trying to drive when you’re a teenager is already difficult enough without texting too.”

“I think calling someone and talking to them is a lot safer than texting,” Ted Armstrong, from Troy, said. “But people are still probably going to do it until they get caught and get a ticket.”

Jennifer Garrett, who directs a local advocacy group, supports the bill and hopes residents will follow the law for their safety, as well as others.

“I hope people take it seriously,” Garrett said. “I think those that see nothing wrong with it will keep doing it. People are so headstrong they think nothing can happen.”

Garrett began Pike County Teen Safe Driving after losing her brother in a car crash. She organized an event to bring together others who had lost loved ones, parents and teens, as well as law enforcement officers, to raise awareness of driver safety. It has since progressed into a year-round advocacy group for safe driving, particularly among younger motorists.

Last March, the group held a fund-raiser called the Texting Kills Thumb Bands Campaign where they sold blue and pink “thumb bands” to remind motorists not to text and drive. The bands contained slogans such as “Texting Kills” and “Text Free Driver.”

“If the ban gets the support it needs, it should make a difference,” Townsy said. “But people do a lot of other unsafe things while driving too.”