Huntsville Amends Texting-While-Driving Ordinance

Texting-While-Driving Ordinance in Huntsville, ALWe all know that distracted driving is dangerous. There have been countless news reports and articles about it over the years, and numerous campaigns by law enforcement to get people to stay aware on the roads. That’s why we’re excited to see that Huntsville’s resident lawmakers are doing everything they can to help mitigate how many people die or are injured in distracted driving accidents due to drivers using their phones while driving.

What is changing in Huntsville?

The Huntsville City Council is making stricter rules about using phones while driving to prevent accidents caused by distracted driving.

They want to update ordinance No. 23-694 to:

  • Forbid texting or doing anything that involves typing on a phone while driving.
  • Stop people from taking pictures or videos while driving.
  • Prohibit talking on the phone without using a hands-free device.
  • Prevent drivers from holding or supporting their phones with their body.

Additionally, the ordinance would make distracted driving a primary offense, meaning that local law enforcement could issue citations for this behavior alone.

This change is being proposed by District 2 Council Member David Little, who had a serious accident caused by distracted driving in 2008. He wants to make sure others understand how dangerous it is. If the City Council agrees, these rules will start on January 1, 2024.

Alabama’s law for using devices has changed recently

Note that Governor Kay Ivey signed SB 301 into law in June. The text of that bill says:

This bill would further provide prohibitions against the use of a wireless telecommunications device and would provide additional clarifications and exceptions on the prohibition, including specifying that the prohibition does not apply to: (1) the use of an earpiece, headphone device, or device worn on a wrist to conduct voice-based communications; (2) voice-based communications that are automatically converted by the device to be sent as a message in a written form; and (3) the use of the device for navigation of the vehicle or for global positioning system purposes.

The new statute covers cell phones and “stand alone” electronic devices, and covers talking, texting, watching videos, and creating videos.

What is the difference between an ordinance and a statute?

To make things a little more clear, it is important to understand the differences between ordinances and statutes or laws.

  • Statute. Think of this as a state law. It’s a rule that applies to the whole state and is created by the state government. For example, traffic laws on highways are state statutes. Breaking these laws can lead to state-level penalties.
  • Ordinance. This is like a local rule. It’s a law made by your city or county government, like your city council or county commissioners. These rules only apply to your local area, not the entire state. For instance, your city might have an ordinance about where people can smoke or sell tobacco. If you break these local rules, there are local penalties or consequences.

The same is true of the new texting-while-driving ordinance. While drivers may be able to use their phones in certain ways while driving in Huntsville, the ordinance means a change in how phones can be used in a car.

Does Huntsville still need this ordinance, now that the law has changed in Alabama?

We think so. A state law can change at any time (though admittedly in Alabama, it can take some time to work its way through the legislature). By passing an ordinance, Huntsville’s residents are guaranteed the protection against texting drivers – or, at least, they are guaranteed the right to hold them accountable for breaking the law.

Another reason is that local ordinances can be stricter than state laws – so long as the ordinance does not contradict state law. The Huntsville ordinance specifically prohibits taking pictures (which the new statute doesn’t) as well as “supporting” the device with a part of the body – like holding a phone between your ear and your shoulder, which technically is being “hands free.” It’s also stricter in terms of the offense, as the new Alabama statute still lists distracted driving as a secondary offense.

Besides – it shows that we’re serious about driver safety. Even if the State wanted to block the ordinance (which it legally can, though likely would not), we’d be on the record.

The dangers of distracted driving

Huntsville, like many places in the country, faces the challenge of distracted driving being a major cause of accidents. Data collected by the insurance company USAA in the first half of 2023 (January through June) showed a 16.2% increase in distracted driving incidents in Alabama, giving us the dubious distinction of being the 4th most distracted state in the country. According to the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA), “in Alabama, 1,844 crashes occurred as a result of distracted driving by use of a cell phone in 2020 and 1,972 crashes in 2019. Under current Alabama law, texting and driving in the state is illegal.”

There is no doubt that distracted driving has had devastating consequences in the United States. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 3,522 lives were lost because of distracted driving in 2021, accounting for “eight percent of fatal crashes, 14 percent of injury crashes, and 13 percent of all police-reported motor vehicle traffic crashes” that year. Another 362,415 individuals were injured in motor vehicle crashes caused by distractions.

The NHTSA and the ALEA warn that sending or reading a text message at 55 mph takes a driver’s eyes off the road for about five seconds. That might not sound like much, but it’s enough time to travel the entire length of a football field – a dangerous situation for everyone on the road.

If you have suffered serious injuries from an accident with a distracted driver, then you need help. Hopefully, you are already receiving medical assistance, but now you should seek out the assistance of a car accident attorney. At Martin & Helms, we have years of experience in helping out victims who have been needlessly hurt in these types of accidents. You do not deserve to lose money, time, sleep, and your mental wellbeing because of someone else’s negligence and recklessness. With the help of our skilled legal team, we will ensure that you receive the compensation you justly deserve from the liable party. To schedule a free consultation with one of our knowledgeable attorneys, call us at our offices in Huntsville and Decatur, or use our contact page. We also proudly serve our clients in Madison and Athens, and throughout North Alabama.