Officials say texting ban needed but difficult to enforce

Published 9:17 am Friday, May 25, 2012

Two local law enforcement officials agree texting and driving is dangerous.

But Clanton Police Chief Brian Stilwell and Chilton County Sheriff Kevin Davis also said a new law banning the activity will be difficult to enforce.

“It is something that needs to be done,” Davis said about the ban, which was signed by Gov. Robert Bentley earlier in May and will go into effect on Aug. 1. “I personally have nearly been involved in an accident with someone who was texting. It’s a distraction–there’s no way around that.”

The law prohibits using a wireless device to write, send or read a text message, instant message or e-mail while operating a motor vehicle. Stilwell said he also understands the law to ban any kind of data transfer, which would include browsing the Internet, playing games or Facebooking.

The fine for violating the law is $25 for a first-time offense, $50 for a second offense and $75 for a third or subsequent offense.

“Signing this bill sends a message that drivers need to focus on driving–not on sending a text,” Bentley said in a release. “There is nothing so urgent that it is worth risking your life, or the lives of others, by sending a text message while you are driving down the road.”

According to data provided by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, texting while driving creates a crash risk that is 23 times greater than when a driver is not distracted. Also, sending or receiving a text message takes a driver’s eyes from the road for an average of 4.6 seconds. For a driver going 55 mph, that’s the equivalent of driving the entire length of a football field.

While realizing the dangers of distracted driving and understanding why lawmakers want to do something about it, Stilwell said he is unsure how officers will be able to determine whether a motorist is texting or, for example, punching in a phone number to make a call, which still is a permissible activity.

“It’s extremely difficult for us to enforce it,” Stilwell said. “Still, I can’t say there won’t be some citations issued. We’ve had a case where we pulled over a lady that was going 40 mph and driving with her knees and Facebooking. We knew she was Facebooking because she was still Facebooking when we got to the vehicle.”