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Distracted driving bill passes House

By WILL WHATLEY, Alabama Daily News

MONTGOMERY, Ala. – After a few false starts, a bill to prohibit holding cell phones while driving has passed the House of Representatives.

House bill 404, sponsored by Rep. K.L. Brown, R-Jacksonville, passed the House by a 77-9 vote. It would make it illegal to use hand-held electronic devices while driving.

Texting while driving is already illegal under Alabama law, but many have complained that that statute is vague and difficult to enforce.

The bill was originally sponsored by Rep. Allen Farley, R-McCalla, and had been carried over multiple times. 

“There is no other legislation more important that you will vote on in this chamber,” Farley said of Brown’s bill.

Rep. John Rogers, D-Birmingham, asked Farley why he passed off the bill to Brown. Farley responded that he had been working on a longer proposal with House Speaker Steve Clouse, R-Ozark, but didn’t want to get sidetracked with that so he passed it off to Brown.

Under the bill, drivers are prohibited from using a wireless device to write, send or read a text-based communication.

Also prohibited: using a wireless device to watch, capture or record a picture or video; or holding the device to talk on the phone.

The bill would also require the Secretary of the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency to give a yearly report to the Legislature about how many traffic stops are related to cell phone distracted driving.

Rep. Wes Allen, R-Troy, was one of the nine representatives who voted against the legislation, saying it would be hard to enforce and could lead to a slippery slope.

“I think it adds some unnecessary restrictions and creates more government,” said Allen. “My main problem was the language that talked about operating a motor vehicle. If you’re sitting at a red light and pick up your phone for some reason, you’re operating a motor vehicle. But it’s a slippery slope. Where do we stop, lap dogs? Eating hamburgers? Fiddling with the radio?”

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