The Huntsville City Council approved an amended ordinance on Oct. 12, 2023, that upgrades the City of Huntsville’s existing no-text ordinance from a secondary to a primary offense, allowing officers to stop a driver when they see a violation and issue a citation. In a secondary offense, officers can only issue a citation if there is another reason to stop the driver.
WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW
Set to become law Jan. 1, 2024, the ordinance prohibits drivers from doing the following while operating a motor vehicle:
- Using a wireless telecommunications device to write, send, read or otherwise engage in any text-based communication;
- Watching, recording or capturing photo or video;
- Engaging in voice-based communication while holding a wireless telecommunications device; or
- Physically holding or otherwise supporting a wireless telecommunications device with any part of their body.
For more information, read the news release or the approved hands-free ordinance.
A list of frequently asked questions related to the new hands-free ordinance. The City will update this page as new questions arise.
The ordinance allows Huntsville Police Department officers to stop a person who is using a wireless telecommunications device while driving and issue a citation. The law does not require officers to have another reason to stop the driver, such as speeding or a broken taillight.
Sponsored by Council President David Little with support from the Huntsville Police Department, the new law seeks to protect the health, safety and welfare of the public by reducing the number of distracted driving-related motor vehicle accidents in Huntsville.
Distracted driving is very dangerous. According to NHTSA, sending or reading a text or managing directions and apps on your mobile device takes your eyes off the road for 5 seconds. At 55 mph, it is equivalent to driving the length of an entire football field with your eyes closed.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports nine people die every day as a result of distracted driving-related accidents, and it’s not just people in vehicles who are impacted. About 1 in 5 bystanders are also killed as a result of distracted driving crashes while walking, biking or some other activity outside a vehicle.
A wireless telecommunications device under the hands-free ordinance includes any cellular, analog, wireless or digital device, computer or phone that can access the internet. It also includes devices that send, receive or download any electronic or digital data or other wireless communication, such as videos, photos, text messages or phone calls.
Examples include but are not limited to smartphones, cell phones, electronic readers or tablets, laptops or netbooks, and GPS devices.
The following devices are not a violation of the hands-free ordinance:
- Voice radios
- Mobile radios
- Land mobile radios
- Commercial mobile radios
- Two-way radios
- Their functional equivalent
This includes any text/SMS messages, instant messages, emails or internet data communicated through a wireless telecommunications device.
The City, with support from HPD, Huntsville Fire & Rescue, HEMSI and Huntsville Hospital, launched an education campaign about the new hands-free ordinance on Dec. 14, 2023.
In the first six months of 2024, police will educate the public about the ordinance without issuing citations and hand out prepared materials with information on the law to drivers.
You may receive a citation issued by a Huntsville Police officer. During a 24-month period, the following fines will apply:
- $50 for a first conviction;
- $100 for a second conviction; and
- $150 for a third conviction and/or community service.
An officer who stops a driver for violating the hands-free law may not search their motor vehicle or the operator or passenger(s) solely because of the violation. They may also not use a violation of the hands-free ordinance to establish probable cause for an unrelated violation.
- Emergency services professionals, including law enforcement officers, EMS personnel, ambulance operators, firefighters or other first responders
- Anyone using an earpiece, headphones, steering wheel controls, speaker phone or other voice-activated technology, or other device worn on the person or mounted on the vehicle
- Motorists who are using a wireless telecommunications device to call or text 911 to report an emergency or seek help
- Individuals who are using wireless telecommunication devices while legally parked
- Those who are using a GPS with pre-programmed driving directions
- Drivers using a continuous recording device within or outside their vehicle, such as a dash or backup camera
- Any individual using a wireless telecommunications device by an employee or contractor of a utility services provider while responding to a utility emergency or other critical utility issue
- A person using an ignition interlock device
- A passenger who is using a wireless telecommunications device inside a vehicle
- A licensed physician responding to an emergency medical situation
For full details about the ordinance, click here.