MONTGOMERY, Ala. - Alabama is getting closer to being the 20th state to impose some form of ban on text messaging while driving.
The Senate Judiciary Committee voted 8-1 Wednesday to approve a text messaging ban that had passed the House in January. The same bill died in the Senate committee last year. But the committee made some changes in the bill before approving it Wednesday.
The revised bill still makes it against the law to text message while driving, but it requires that a motorist be committing some other offense, such as speeding, before police can stop the vehicle. The bill originally allowed police to stop a driver only for text messaging, but some senators were concerned that officers could misuse it.
The bill's sponsor, Republican Rep. Jim McClendon, of Springville, said he's fine with the change because that's how the Alabama Legislature initially enacted a seat belt law. Then when people became comfortable with the law and started buckling up, the Legislature allowed police to stop motorists only for not wearing seat belts, he said.
McClendon said he's optimistic the change will help the bill clear the Senate and let Alabama join the 19 states that have banned texting while driving.
"This bill will save lives," Sen. Zeb Little, D-Cullman, said.
The bill provides a $25 fine for a first offense. It does not affect the use of cell phones to make and receive phone calls while driving, McClendon said.
The Senate Judiciary Committee also made revisions to a House-passed bill that reduces the number of unrelated teenagers that a 16-year-old driver can have in a car. Currently, a 16-year-old driver can have four teen passengers who aren't related. The House-passed bill reduced that to one, but the Senate committee raised it to two.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Mac Gipson, R-Prattville, now goes to the Senate for consideration.