According to Alabama Code § 32-5A-350, it is against the law to use a cellular telephone or other similar device to send or receive text based communications, including text messages, instant or direct messages, pictures, and electronic mail while operating a motor vehicle on a public road, street, or highway. The penalty is $25.00 for a first violation, $50.00 for a second violation, and $75.00 for a third or subsequent violation.
Violation of the statute can be the primary or sole reason for being stopped by a law enforcement officer. This means that a law enforcement officer can stop a motorist for texting and driving without witnessing any other moving violation. If someone is texting and driving, an officer can stop that driver and issue a ticket, even if the driver is following all of the other rules of the road at the time.
Although texting is illegal, the statue allows the user of a device to “read, select, or enter” a telephone number in a device for the purpose of making a call while driving. The statute also allows for the sending and receiving of messages with voice operated devices when driving an automobile.
There are some exceptions to the strict prohibition on text messaging while driving. Sending or receiving text based communications when operating a motor vehicle is allowed when a person is:
- Using a device to obtain emergency services, including calls to the police, fire department, or healthcare providers;
- Using a device when their automobile is parked on the shoulder of the road; and/or
- Using a device for navigation to receive directions when the device has been pre-programmed with coordinates.
Alabama’s ban on texting while driving was signed into law in 2012 in response to a report by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) that outlined the dangers of distracted driving. Another NHTSA report from 2015 indicates that 3,477 persons were killed and 391,000 persons were injured in the United States by distracted drivers, including drivers distracted by texting and driving.
Besides the criminal penalties listed above, a driver may also face a civil lawsuit, if they allow themselves to become distracted by their cellphone. Since texting and driving is both a violation of the law and widely known to be dangerous, it may be used as evidence of wanton or reckless conduct. This means that, if a driver causes a crash with injuries while texting and driving, a jury may return a verdict for punitive or exemplary damages to punish the offending driver and make an example out of them for the community at large.
At Siniard, Timberlake & League, we have seen the tragic results of texting and driving far too many times. If you or a loved one have been injured by a distracted driver that was texting behind the wheel, we can help.