State Rep. Ken Guin says Alabama needs to ban people from text messaging while driving a motor vehicle, and a recent experience with a driver swerving “all over the road” is a reason why.
“I started to drive around her. I thought she was drunk,” said Guin, D-Carbon Hill. He said he pulled up alongside the vehicle and noticed that the driver was holding her cell phone on the steering wheel and appeared to be sending a text message.
Maybe not for much longer.
A majority of House and Senate members responding to a survey by The Associated Press said they favor passing legislation to ban people from sending text messages while driving a motor vehicle.
Republican Rep. Jim McClendon, a retired optometrist from Springville, has prefiled a bill in the Legislature that would fine a driver $25 for a first conviction for texting while driving. A driver would be fined $50 for a second conviction and $75 for each subsequent violation.
The bill would also cause one point to be charged to the record of the driver. A person can lose his or her license after accumulating 12 points on their driving record.
The bill, which passed the House last year but failed in the Senate, was favored heavily by lawmakers responding to the AP survey. In the House, 84 percent of members responding said they support the bill, just 3 percent said they were opposed and 13 percent were undecided; 79 percent of senators responding favored the bill, 10 percent were opposed and 10 percent undecided. Responding to the survey were 70 percent of House members and 83 percent of senators.
If the bill receives final passage and is signed by Gov. Bob Riley, Alabama would join 19 states that currently ban texting while driving, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association. Another 9 states ban texting by young or novice drivers.
McClendon’s bill is being supported by the Alabama chapter of the National Safety Council. The chapter’s director, Jason Robinson, said he believes the ban would save lives.
“Research has shown the if you’re talking on a cell phone you’re four times more likely to be involved in an accident and if you’re text messaging you are six times more likely,” Robinson said.
McClendon’s bill was also supported overwhelmingly in last year’s AP survey, but it ran into trouble in a Senate committee where some senators questioned what motorists would do if they received an emergency text from a child or other family member.
McClendon said the answer to the question is simple.
“Pull off the road and don’t put the other people out there on the highway at risk because of your own perceived emergency,” McClendon said. He said the bill would not stop a driver from getting a passenger in the car to send a text message for him.
McClendon said he believes publicity concerning accidents caused by texting and a movement to ban texting and driving nationwide will help remove opposition to the bill. The Obama administration has said it supports a ban on texting and driving and McClendon said he expects there will eventually be federal legislation that would take away some highway dollars from states that don’t ban texting while driving.
But state Sen. Scott Beason, R-Gardendale, said he opposes the bill and believes it is unnecessary.
“We already have reckless driving laws that should be enforced,” Beason said.
The Legislature this week begins its regular session, which will run until the middle of April.
McClendon said he believes banning texting while driving is a simple issue and that this may be the session the bill passes.
“Fatalities on our highways are simple enough to prevent,” McClendon said. “If you don’t use seat belts, you put yourself at risk. When you text message, you put everybody at risk.”