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Distracted driving bill: It’s a start

BY ANNA BARRETT, Alabama Daily News

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Gov. Kay Ivey today signed legislation aiming to crack down on distracted driving. It goes into effect immediately.

The effort to ban holding a phone or other device while driving was introduced in the House for several years without success. This year, longtime lawmaker Sen. Jabo Waggoner joined the fight with an emotional plea to his colleagues and got Senate Bill 301 through his chamber and then the House. 

The final version wasn’t everything he and supporters wanted, but it’s a start, he told Alabama Daily News.

“We have something on the books to start with, but I’ll strengthen it in the future,” Waggoner told ADN.

Waggoner and supporters got the bill from introduction to final passage in about a month, but an amendment in the House made holding a communications device a secondary offense, rather than a primary offense. That means drivers can’t be pulled over or cited for the device alone. They have to be driving in a distracted manner.

Waggoner said he did not love the amendment, but knew it was a compromise to get the bill passed. 

Hands-free devices, like earpieces or other voice-activated devices, would still be permitted under the bill, if signed into law. Violators of the law can be fined starting at $50 for the first offense and receive points on their driver’s licenses. The bill has a one-year grace period from the day it is signed where violators will receive a written warning.

During State House meetings, Waggoner said the issue was personal for him. His son, Scott Waggoner, was killed in a car wreck in 1979. The senator said he’s been asked for several years to carry a distracted driving bill, but declined until this session.

Rep. Randy Wood, R-Annistion, and AAA asked him to sponsor the bill this session.

“I am very happy it passed after many years,” Waggoner told Alabama Daily News. Waggoner’s concerns were echoed by AAA in an interview Friday morning.

“There’s just something different about driving around with a phone in your hand compared to driving around and talking on your hands free device,” AAA public relations manager Clay Ingram told ADN. “It’s just a big difference in the level of safety because if you’re holding a phone in your hand, you have at least one hand off of the steering wheel.”

Ingram said AAA would work with Waggoner in the future to strengthen the bill, their main goal being the same as the senator’s.

Wood had an identical bill that was carried over earlier in the session. He said the only difference between the bills was resolved by a House amendment that the Senate concurred with on Tuesday.

Ingram said Wood’s version of the bill is stronger and that AAA was in support of it and worked with Wood. 

Wood said he is glad that Waggoner’s bill got passed and that the goal is to save lives.

“What this bill actually does, it’s gonna save lives,” he said. “If you can make the difference to save one life, just one, it’s worth all the years I’ve been in the legislature.”

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