Bill to ban holding cell phone while driving advances in Alabama Legislature

By Mike Cason

Rep. Randy Wood, R-Anniston, speaks to the House Public Safety Committee about his bill to ban holding a cell phone while driving. The committee approved the bill, which has been proposed for several years but has not passed. (Mike Cason)

A bill to make it illegal to hold a cell phone while driving won approval this morning in the Public Safety Committee in the Alabama House of Representatives.

It’s already illegal to text while driving in Alabama. The bill by Rep. Randy Wood, R-Anniston, would make it illegal to hold a cell phone to talk or to take a photo or video while driving. It would not be a violation to use Bluetooth or a similar system to talk without holding a phone, or to use a hands-free device.

Wood said the purpose of the bill is to prevent accidents and save lives that could be lost because of distracted drivers.

“A life is very, very precious,” Wood said. “And everyone we save, we’re that much ahead of the game.”

No one on the committee opposed the bill. Rep Chris England, D-Tuscaloosa, said he was concerned that the bill includes so many exemptions and restrictions on what police can do when they stop a driver for talking on a cell phone would undermine the purpose. England and Wood committed to talking about possible changes before the bill moves to a vote on the Alabama House floor.

The bill is not new. Former state Rep. K.L. Brown, R-Jacksonville, had sponsored it for several years. The House rejected Brown’s bill by narrow margins the last two years. Brown did not run for re-election last year.

The Public Safety Committee also approved a bill by Rep. Rolanda Hollis, D-Birmingham, that would make it illegal to smoke or vape in an enclosed vehicle if a child younger than 14 is in the vehicle. Hollis has sponsored the same bill before but it has not passed.

Bills approved by House committees today could be up for a vote in the full House as early as Thursday. The Legislature resumed its session on Tuesday and can meet as much as 13 more weeks.