Distracted Driving Bill aimed to save lives

Published 4:07 pm Thursday, July 6, 2023

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An Editorial Opinion of The Greenville Advocate

Governor Kay Ivey signed the Distracted Driving Bill, Senate Bill 301, into law on June 14, officially making it illegal for Alabama drivers to hold a phone or other device while driving.

The legislation, many years in the making, came more than four decades too late for its sponsor, Senator Jabo Waggoner, R-Vestavia Hills, who’s son died in a fatal 1979 car crash.

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When he died, Waggoner’s son was not holding a cell phone, because in 1979 there were none. The young man, just 18-years-old, was driving a Jeep he received as a graduation gift from his dad and was not wearing a seatbelt when he had his accident.

Inspired by his son’s tragic death. Waggoner championed legislative efforts to cut down on driving distractions, for which mobile phone related distractions were the cause of 384 fatal crashes across America in 2021.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 885 Alabamians died in fatal crashes in 2021. Of those, 46 or roughly 5.2% involved a distracted driver.

In 1979, one death was too many. In 2021, 46 deaths were too many. Today, any number of distracted driving deaths are too many, when motorists have the means to do better.

Modern vehicles come equipped with features not available in 1979, technology allowing motorists to talk hands free, without holding a phone or other device. With those features come many more distractions too – radios, navigation systems, phone service – which can take motorists’ attention away from the road.

The new law means holding a cell phone is a secondary violation, meaning that police can not stop someone for holding a cell phone, but can issue a citation to a driver holding a phone who was stopped for another traffic violation. The first fine violation is $50 and multiple violations can increase the cost of fines and a driver’s record.

Many drivers see the law as an inconvenience and a frustration. But for the man who lost his son 44 years ago, the law is a victory and another step towards helping parents see their children return home safely at the end of the day.

Plans to strengthen the bill are coming, so that officers can stop drivers using devices. In the meantime, drivers have the opportunity to become more aware of the road and less distracted by the gadgets designed to make life easier and more convenient. If one more son, daughter, husband, wife, sister, brother, father, or mother returns home safely because of the law, the fight to bring it to fruition will have been worth it.

Waggoner said he is proud of what he has accomplished for his son.

“He’d say good job, Dad,” said Waggoner in a media release. “Maybe it’ll help save some lives, and cut out some of this distracted driving.”