The Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT) hopes a new "hands-free" law will reduce drivers' distractions.

In 2022, an estimated 3,308 people were killed in crashes caused by distracted driving, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Nearly 290,000 people were injured in distracted driving crashes, although those numbers are likely much lower than the actual number because many distracted driving cases go unreported.

In Alabama, it is believed that nearly 7% of traffic fatalities were caused by distracted driving.

"Distracted driving is a major cause of vehicle crashes, and the hands-free law can help reduce the number of those crashes," said Drive Safe Alabama coordinator at ALDOT Allison Green. "There were at least 67 lives lost to distracted driving on Alabama roads in 2022. We are hopeful that voluntary compliance with the hands-free law will eventually rise to the compliance we have seen with the seat belt law, which continues to save many lives each year."

The new law, which goes into effect June 1, allows drivers to be issued a citation if they are seen holding their phones for calls, texts, emails or web browsing. The law is a secondary offense, so another traffic violation must be committed first.

Orange Beach Police Department's Lt. Trent Johnson said the law will benefit an area with a lot of pedestrian traffic.

"They're walking up and down the road and we have our visitors and residents that are driving up and down the road," Johnson said about the tourism beach town. "We definitely want drivers giving full attention to the operation of their motor vehicles."

Penalties are a $50 fine and one point on your driving record for the first offense, a $100 fine and two points on your driving record for the second offense if the second offense is within 24 months of the first, and a third offense is a $150 fine and three points.

Johnson said the law can be enforced by officers watching for violations and asking drivers questions.

"Most people are generally honest," he explained. "If we stop a car and explain you were swerving — which is one of the pretextuals concerning this law — and you weren't maintaining usage of a single lane and you've got your phone in your hand, then I can ask you, 'Were you texting? Were you looking at social media? What were you doing because I stopped you because I believe you may be under the influence of something based on your driving.' And most people will readily admit that they were using their phone when they shouldn't have been."

"If we ask why they were driving poorly and they don't give us an honest answer or there's just no indication that they were using their electronic device, we've still stopped them," Johnson continued. "We still brought their attention to their poor driving and in theory, that should at least get them to understand what they were doing and fix the problem and then drive correctly."

Drivers can use Bluetooth technology to remain hands-free and answer calls with a single button or swipe action. Johnson said it is better to be safe than sorry.

"Just don't do it," Johnson added. "It's not worth it. You're going to get where you're going to get and then you can answer that phone call, then you can answer that text message, then you can look at your social media. If you were to have an accident because you were trying to do it while you were driving, you're not going to get where you're going when you're supposed to get there. If you injure somebody, you're looking at something far more serious than just being able to answer a text message in the immediate. Don't do it. Keep your eyes on the road and give driving your full attention."

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