Put safety first: put phone down while driving

It’s been almost a month since the state of Alabama began officially enforcing its hands-free law, and we want to stand behind the message.

If you’re behind the wheel, put your phone down.

It’s been a full year since the state first passed the law making it illegal to hold a cellphone while driving – with obvious exceptions for circumstances like calling 911. Alabama already had a law on the books that made it illegal to text while driving, but the new law expanded on that to include many other functions that might lead to distracted driving, from watching or recording a video, to reading an email, to the simple act of holding the phone.

“Individuals observed crossing in and out of a traffic lane without using a turn signal, swerving, or otherwise operating the vehicle in an impaired manner while physically holding a wireless telecommunication device could be issued a citation,” according to the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency.

That’s good. If you’re in the driver’s seat, you should have one priority: safely navigating the roadways.

Text messages, TikToks, recipes, memes, news articles, Facebook reels, Tweets, photos of your grandchild – they can all wait until you safely reach your destination.

The risk is just too great.

For the past year, law enforcement has only issued warnings to people breaking this law. Now, the grace period is over.

A first offense fine is $50 and a point on your license. Get pulled over twice, and you’re looking at $100 and two points on your license. The third time? You’ll pay to the tune of $150 and three points on your license.

More than three infractions can mean the suspension of your driver’s license.

According to drivesafealabama.org, cell phone-related crashes are one of the fastest growing causes of traffic crashes in Alabama and continue to increase each year. Fatalities association with distracted driving – which isn’t always, but often is, cell phone-related – have increased by 67.5 percent in the past five years, and a texting driver has 23 times the risk of a crash compared to drivers who keep their phones down.

It’s so avoidable. Just put the phone down.

You don’t even have to completely give up access to that treasured device. You can use speakerphone, an earpiece, a wireless headset or your vehicle’s Bluetooth function if you really need to stay connected.

Alternatively, if you know the temptation of those little notification dings is going to be too great, put your phone in Do Not Disturb or airplane mode – or even turn it off. Put your phone away in your purse, arm rest or glovebox, where it’s out of sight, out of mind.

What text message is worth the penalties you’ll incur?

More than that, what use of your phone is worth endangering your own safety and the safety of others on the road?

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