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New year, new you: City prioritizes distraction-free driving in Huntsville

Published on January 3, 2024

A white person holds a phone while steering a vehicle. The person is wearing a red shirt. The phone is black.

Stepping into a new year, many Huntsville residents are reflecting on the positive changes they would like to make in 2024. To that end, the City of Huntsville and Huntsville Police Department (HPD) are asking citizens to prioritize road safety by committing to distraction-free driving this year and beyond.

The pledge to drive without distractions comes as the City and HPD kick off a six-month education campaign on a new hands-free ordinance that will prohibit drivers from physically handling any wireless telecommunication device, such as a phone or tablet, while operating a vehicle in the city limits of Huntsville.

With nearly every U.S. state passing laws to combat distracted driving, Huntsville recognizes distracted driving is a national issue and is doing its part to make roadways safer for current and future generations of drivers.

“It’s easy to get caught up in the fast pace of life, especially behind the wheel,” said City Council President David Little, who sponsored the ordinance. “While breaking old habits can be hard, the potential impact of not doing so on those around us is too great to ignore. Starting now, I ask all Huntsville citizens to commit to being fully present on the road, not only to ensure your own safety but the safety of others as well.”

WATCH: Hands-free ordinance campaign kickoff

Get ready

To bolster nationwide efforts to eliminate distracted driving, Huntsville passed a new law in October 2023 that treats a handheld wireless telecommunication device violation as a primary offense. The goal of the legislation is to protect the health, safety and welfare of the community by reducing the number of distracted driving-related wrecks in Huntsville.

Educating the public without issuing citations is the City’s top priority for the first half of 2024. Through June 30, the education campaign will include a mix of organic and targeted online and social media outreach, print materials, digital signage and billboards, videos, blogs, in-person events and more.

Motorists who violate the ordinance after the campaign ends may be issued a citation and required to pay the following fines within a 24-month period:

  • $50 for a first conviction;
  • $100 for a second conviction; and
  • $150 for a third conviction and/or community service.

Certain individuals will be exempt from the ordinance, including emergency services professionals, those dialing or texting 911 to report an emergency or seek help, individuals using wireless telecommunication devices while legally parked, physicians responding to an emergency medical situation and more.

“Distracted driving has become an alarming issue, contributing to countless accidents and tragedies in Huntsville and across our state and country,” said HPD Chief Kirk Giles. “By putting an end to texting, phone calls and other distractions while driving, we all play a part in creating a community where everyone can travel with confidence and peace of mind.”

Next steps

Struggling to put your device away while driving? You’re not alone.

“Many of us are guilty of occasionally using our devices while driving, but the reality is, one second of inattention can have devastating consequences,” said Huntsville Fire & Rescue Chief Mac McFarlen. “In this new year, let’s all pledge to stay focused and leave distractions behind to make Huntsville a safer city for all.”

Here are a few tips to get started:

Put the phone away

Stow your phone or other wireless device in a designated place before starting your vehicle to resist the temptation to use it while driving.

Plan ahead

Map out your route, set up any necessary navigation and attend to personal matters before getting on the road to minimize distractions.

Take breaks

Long drives can be tiring, leading to less focus on the road. Commit to taking regular breaks when needed to stay alert and refreshed.

Lead by example

Encourage your loved ones to join you in your resolution to end distracted driving. Doing so helps foster a culture of responsible driving within and beyond your circle of influence.

To learn more about the new hands-free law, visit HuntsvilleAL.gov/HandsFree.

The public can also keep up with HPD on Facebook and X to follow the campaign.