“Rules of the Road” broken most in Chilton County

Published 11:39 am Monday, December 11, 2017


They are everywhere — the drivers you declare “don’t know how to drive.” You may be one of them, and chances are, you are one more often than you realize.

Most traffic laws are simple and even common sense. We know they are important. We know they keep us safe.

But still, we break them.

According to Chilton County law enforcement, the most frequent traffic violations by drivers in the county are texting while driving, speeding and unbuckled seat belts.

Chilton areas that tend to host the most vehicle accidents are the Interstate 65 Exits 205 and 219, as well as any busy intersection in downtown Clanton, according to Chief Keith Maddox of the Clanton Police Department. 

Distracted Driving: Texting or Not

Impartial to county roads, highways or the interstate, one of the main causes for single vehicular accidents in the county is distracted driving, frequently due to phone use.

“I will say distracted driving is one of the biggest things we see that causes crashes out there on the interstate and any road in Alabama,” Senior Trooper Chad Nalls of the Montgomery post for the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency said.

According to the Alabama Department of Transportation, “Distracted driving is any activity that could divert a person’s attention away from the primary task of driving. All distractions endanger driver, passenger and bystander safety.”

“The number of single vehicle crashes that I have worked in the last couple of years has shot up dramatically. Single vehicle crashes,” Nalls said. “It doesn’t take a rocket scientist just to figure out what’s happening there, when you get there and they’re (drivers are) sober as a judge.”

Nalls operates primarily in Chilton County, but Montgomery’s short-staffed post and Nalls’ additional position as traffic homicide investigator calls him to work in parts of Autauga, Elmore and Lowndes counties as well.

Nalls, Maddox and Chilton County Sheriff John Shearon agreed that texting seems to be the greatest form of distraction to drivers on the road, regardless of drivers’ ages.

“For all intents and purposes,” Nalls said, “they appear to be under the influence.”

“Texting and driving is one [violation] that scares me more so than anything nowadays,” Shearon said. “I’d rather meet a drunk driver on the road, I believe, than I have someone texting and driving. Because at least the drunk is trying to pay attention to the road.”

Statistics show that a texting driver is 23 times more likely to get in an accident than a non-texting driver, according to ALDOT.

“A vehicle traveling 55 miles per hour can go the length of a football field in less than four seconds, about the time it takes to look at a text,” Maddox said. “It’s scary when you think about it. You have 2 tons of metal going down the road and it doesn’t stop on a dime.”

“Accident records show that over 90 percent of highway crashes are caused by driver error, lack of knowledge, inattention, physical or mental condition, improper attitude or faulty judgment,” according to ALDOT. “If you are worried, distracted or if your mind is preoccupied, you cannot count on being sufficiently alert to drive safely.” 


Distraction can also lead to speeding – another major issue in the county.

“Right now, we’re working a lot of traffic overtime involving working speeding,” Maddox said of Clanton traffic. “A lot of that is on our four-lane highways.”

Maddox said people tend to forget that often the zone has a 45 miles per hour instead of 55 mile per hour speed limit.

Shearon said federal roads are especially a temptation to speeders because of how well they are maintained. Potholes on poorly maintained roads slow drivers.

“Of course, you’re going to see higher speeds, on average, on the interstate,” Nalls said. “[Troopers] see them in the triple digits every single day. Every day. And when I say that, I’m not joking. I mean every day.”

Law enforcement officials said speeding vehicles pose a notable danger to heeders and subjects of the state’s move-over law, especially on the interstate.

Move-over law requires motorists to move to the adjacent lane, as safely able, when an emergency vehicle is pulled over on one side of the road. Drivers unable to safely switch lanes must slow down to 15 miles per hour below the designated speed limit.

The law protects occupants of the emergency vehicles, which include law enforcement, firefighters, ambulance and wrecker vehicles.

Nalls said some drivers are ignorant of the law, commenting that he’s seen motorists speed closely by the stopped vehicles or even whip around drivers who slowed by the scene.

Speeding on rural roads is also a particular danger. Rural roads are often curvy and have two lanes. Miscalculating the sharpness of a turn or suddenly encountering an animal dashing into the road are dangerous enough without the added factor of speed.

According to ALDOT, fatalities more often occur in rural areas, while crashes tend to occur in urban areas, according to ALDOT.

“The only thing that’s dividing you and that other vehicle coming north if you’re going south is that yellow line. That’s the only thing that’s stopping them,” Nalls said. “That’s not stopping them. And then, of course, if you run off the road, there’s the trees right there closer to the road’s edge.” 

Unbuckled Seat Belts

Fatality rates are especially high for drivers and passengers who don’t wear seat belts.

Current Alabama law requires drivers and front-seat passengers to use seat belts. While state law does not yet require backseat passengers to buckle up, the Alabama Senate approved a bill in February 2017 to make backseat buckling a law. The bill was advanced to Alabama House for voting.

Whether or not the bill passes, law enforcement officers urge all passengers to buckle up.

“I’ve seen hundreds and hundreds of crashes over the years, and seat belts would have saved a lot of lives or a lot of injuries, if they’d just been wearing the seat belt,” Maddox said. “It’s just a habit you’ve got to get into.”

Maddox said CPD officers are required to buckle up.

Statistically, drivers who fasten their seat belts “stand a far better chance” of being uninjured or living through a crash, Nalls said.

Seat belts reduce the risk of death for adult drivers by 45 percent, according to the Alabama Department of Public Health.

“Appropriate restraints, such as car seats and booster seats, reduce the risk of death by 54 percent for toddlers and 71 percent for infants,” according to ADPH.

“Most of the fatalities that I’ve worked, the majority of the [victims] have been ejected, and the vehicle usually rolls over on the ejected driver or passenger…” Nalls said. “So in my opinion, had they had their seat belt on, they would have probably still been injured, but they would have lived. They would have survived.”

In ADPH’s words, “Buckle up, Alabama.”

Simple laws, such as those which forbid texting while driving, speeding and remaining unbuckled, are too quickly broken.

But they save lives.

“I tell a lot of people this: Listen, if you’re not going to do it for yourself, do it for your child, do it for your spouse. Because the worst part about my job and any state trooper’s job is having to tell that family member that that loved one is gone,” Nalls said. “That’s what we fear the most, and we have to do it all the time. And that’s a tough situation to be in, because you can’t get that person back.”

Nalls urged readers, “Buckle up, be safe. Put the phone down. If you need to talk to someone, dial the number and talk to them… Slow down, enjoy the holidays. Celebrate it for what it is. Be with your families and be safe.”