New Alabama Law Could Mean Higher Rates for Texters

In Alabama, a statewide prohibition on texting behind the wheel goes into effect Wednesday and carries enforcement measures that could raise coverage rates on lawbreakers.

HB 2, finalized by Gov. Robert Bentley in May, bans use of mobile devices to text while driving and institutes a $25 fine for a first violation, $50 for a second violation and $75 for third and subsequent offenses. Each offense also brings a two-point penalty on a driving record. That makes it about as serious an offense as speeding between 1 and 25 mph over the speed limit or drinking alcohol while driving a vehicle, which are also two-point violations.

Points against a driving record are typically viewed by insurers as a viable reason to raise their rates on a driver. That means those who get caught texting could see higher rates next time they get a comparison of auto insurance rates.

Alabama’s texting penalties are relatively harsher than those under other states’ recent texting bans. Lawmakers in West Virginia and Idaho passed legislation prohibiting texting while driving in April; both prohibitions are currently in effect. West Virginia’s law levies a three-point penalty against a driver’s record but only on a third offense, while Idaho’s law explicitly states that such infractions are not categorized as moving violations that insurers can use as grounds to inflate premiums.

Currently, 39 states in the U.S. bar all drivers from texting while driving.

“Our highways will be safer with the passage of this law,” said Rep. Jim McClendon (R-Shelby), who sponsored the legislation in the state House, in a statement.

The new regulation is enforced as a primary offense, allowing authorities to stop and cite any suspected violator.

Prohibited hand-held devices under the law are defined as any that are “readily removable from a vehicle and are used to write, send, or read text or data through manual input.”

However, the law exempts use of voice-operated devices that “allow the user to send or receive a text-based communication without the use of either hand except to activate or deactivate a feature or function.”

Alabama Also Testing Verification System

Last month, several Alabama counties began piloting the Online Insurance Verification System (OIVS) that will allow authorities and officials to authenticate the insurance status of vehicles. The electronic database holds vehicle information that instantly matches a car to the status of its coverage within that database and will be first used by county officials issuing license plates to motorists. Without a match on the database confirming insurance, a motorist will be unable to obtain his or her license plates.

The state plans to expand OIVS use to all authorities by January 2013, according to a release from officials.

Alabama lawmakers behind the recent efforts say they aim to bring down the higher-than-average rate of uninsured drivers in the state, where 22 percent of drivers lacked coverage in 2009, according to the Insurance Research Council (IRC).

That figure ranked Alabama as the state with the sixth-highest rate of uninsured drivers in the U.S. in 2009.

Alabama drivers face a maximum $700 worth of fines and fees, as well as suspension of registration, for a first violation of driving without insurance.

About Ben Zitney
Benjamin Zitney has been covering the auto insurance industry for the past 2.5 years. Before coming to Online Auto Insurance News, he produced an extensive company history of the 30-year-old California Joint Powers Insurance Authority and worked at the Cal State Long Beach Daily Forty-Niner as a reporter, copy editor and news editor.

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