City to start enforcing tough texting law

Adrienne Burch

Tuscaloosa police officers have given out the first warning tickets for texting while driving and will begin issuing normal tickets soon, according to Sgt. Brent Blankley, Tuscaloosa Police Department public information officer.

The Alabama law banning texting while driving became effective Aug. 1 and could result in a fine for offenders of up to $75 and a two-point violation on their driving records. The law prohibits drivers from sending text messages, instant messages and emails while driving but does not prohibit dialing or talking on a phone.

“When people try to text while operating a motor vehicle, they have to take their attention off of the road,” said Sgt. Brent Blankley, Tuscaloosa Police Department public information officer. “This puts the driver, passengers and other vehicles at risk.”

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported that 3,092 people died in the United States in 2010 from “distraction-affected” accidents, which includes texting and dialing a cellphone.

The fine for texting and driving increases with each offense, starting at $25, then $50 for a second offense and $75 for a third offense. Each offense is also a two-point violation on a person’s driving record.

Blankley said he believes that the law will help reduce the number of people that text and drive, but it will not completely stop it.

“It is no different than seatbelt or speeding laws,” Blankley said. “Most people will obey laws for safety reasons or the fear of getting caught and having to pay a fine, but some will continue to do it regardless of the risk.”

Dakota Duncan, a sophomore majoring in mechanical engineering, said that he does not think that the new texting and driving law will do much to stop people from doing it.

“Texting has become such a major part of our culture,” Duncan said. “So much weight is given to text messaging that even something that is dangerous, like driving, won’t stop us from doing it.”

Duncan said that it is hard for him to ignore a text message while he is driving and this new law will only provide a little motivation to make him stop.

Bridgestone Americas Inc. recently conducted a study of teens and their driving habits. The study found that teens believe the top distractor for teen driving is alcohol but is closely followed by texting while driving.

One-third of respondents admit to reading text messages at least occasionally while driving, while one-fifth admit to typing text messages occasionally while driving. Though young drivers admit to engaging in these distractions, two-thirds of them still claimed to be “very safe” drivers.

“Bottom line is teens don’t believe they’re distracted drivers, even though they engage in risky behaviors like texting,” Claire Stephens, representative from Bridgestone Americas Teens Drive Smart, said.

Kathryn Keller, a sophomore majoring in human development and family studies, said she thinks the new law has drawn a lot of positive attention to the issue of texting and driving.

“All of the media attention with the passing of this legislation has made a lot more people aware of the dangers of texting and driving,” Keller said.

Keller said while she agrees with the new law, she is concerned with how the police plan on enforcing it.

“It will be hard for officers to determine when a person is texting while driving,” she said. “This could cause issues when these cases are taken to court.”