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April 15, 2021

Distracting driving bill crashes after Alabama House debate

The Alabama House of Representatives on Tuesday narrowly rejected a proposal to fine people for using a smartphone while driving.

The bill by Republican Rep. K.L. Brown of Jacksonville would have prohibited a driver from holding a phone with their hands or shoulders, or watching or recording with a phone while driving. The bill failed on a narrow 47-48 vote after a lengthy debate that drew criticism from members of both parties.

Some lawmakers questioned if the measure would be enforceable. Some Democrats also expressed concern that the driving law would be used to target minorities for traffic stops.

Distracted driving is a deadly threat to roadway safety and Alabama should follow states that have passed “hands free” legislation, Brown argued.

“I think we could probably poll everybody in here and they could probably tell you within the last week of cases where they have been driving behind someone and they are weaving,” Brown said. “Instead of driving intoxicated. They are driving in-texticated.”

Rep. Tashina Morris, D-Montgomery, told Brown she understood his intent, but she pointed to the death of Philando Castile, a Black Minnesota school cafeteria worker, who was shot during a traffic stop seconds after informing an officer he was carrying a gun. She said she fears for her own son driving home from work at night.

“These are the types of fears we have inside our community,” Morris said.

Republican Rep. Will Dismukes of Prattville said he thought many lawmakers would be hypocritical if they voted for the bill.
“When I left on Thursday, I passed three legislators driving north on 65 and each one of them was on their cell phone,” Dismukes said.

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