The City of Montgomery has passed an ordinance making hand-held cell phone use, including texting, while driving a secondary criminal offense. The City Council’s approach mirrors what the state did years ago with seatbelts. Initially, failing to wear a seatbelt was a secondary offense, but now it is a violation. A police officer can pull someone over simply for not wearing a seatbelt.
A driver will have to violate one of the “rules of the road,” such as running a stop sign while texting or holding a phone to talk, before the driver can be cited for distracted driving. The City Council passed the ordinance with a 6-1 vote after weeks of tough debate on this matter. Based on studies and our firm’s experience in litigation, I am convinced that talking on a cell phone and texting while driving a motor vehicle are major distractions. City Council Vice President Tracy Larkin, who sponsored the ordinance, said the Council’s decision was a “historic opportunity” to send a “clear statement about the importance of public safety.” I agree with Tracy, who had this to say about the measure passed:
There is no question as to whether this is the most common-sense issue before us today. Distracted driving, and texting while driving in particular, is a practice that we need to curtail and we need to do it immediately before any other lives are lost.
Like all other misdemeanor offenses, a police officer would have to witness the act before he or she could issue a citation for it. The punishment for violating the new ordinance is as follows: the first violation will be punishable by a fine of up to $50 or imprisonment in the city jail for ten days or less; a second violation will be punishable by a fine of up to $100 or imprisonment in the city jail for ten days or less; a third or subsequent violation within a 12-month period will be punishable by a fine of up to $500 or imprisonment in the city jail for three months or less.
The new ordinance is coupled with an educational/public relations campaign that is intended to motivate people to make the personal decision to change their cell phone habits while driving. Signs, stickers and billboards carrying the City’s message will start appearing before the year is over, according to Mayor Todd Strange. The mayor and City Council members – and especially Tracey Larkin – should be commended for taking this important first step.
Source: Montgomery Advertiser
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