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Stronger hands-free driving ordinance personal for Huntsville council president

HUNTSVILLE – There is an agenda sometimes, one aimed to help everyone, whatever the political affiliation.

David Little had something he told everyone would be a plank he’d walk on over the bow if he was elected to the Huntsville City Council. He was going to sponsor hands-free driving bills.

It was destiny as much as it was a decision.

Little, elected to a first term as District 2 representative in September 2022, was voted council president in October on the same day a personal crusade was realized. That fall day, the City Council passed the ordinance he championed to strengthen the city’s hands-free driving laws in regards to cell phones and other hand-held devices.

Thursday, a press conference was held in anticipation of the new laws coming into effect Jan. 1.

“It was quite the process at the city level, but we’ve been trying at the state level for years with little effect, and having it here in Huntsville is a good feeling,” said Little, who once nearly lost his life in a car wreck involving his family and who spent months hospitalized because of a distracted driver who was texting. “I’ve said we’re all one injury or one event, one tragedy, one illness away from becoming an advocate, and that was put in my family’s lap.

“So, I became an advocate for safer roads.”

To make the city streets safer, Little’s successful push resulted in stiffer penalties for drivers cited for breaking local cell phone while driving laws. He was joined at a news conference by Police Chief Kirk Giles, Fire and Rescue Chief Mac McFarlen, and Huntsville Hospital ER Medical Director Dr. Dan Neuberger who all backed the new laws that will go into effect Jan. 1.

Under the new law, it is illegal to do any of the following while operating a motor vehicle:

  • Use a wireless telecommunications device to write, send, read or otherwise engage in any text-based communication. A wireless telecommunications device includes, but is not limited to, smartphones, cell phones, electronic readers or tablets, laptops or netbooks, and GPS devices.
  • Watch, record or capture photo or video
  • Engage in voice-based communication while holding a wireless telecommunications device
  • Physically hold or otherwise support a wireless telecommunications device with any part of their body

There will be a grace period In the first six months of 2024. The city will join HPD, Huntsville Fire & Rescue, HEMSI and Huntsville Hospital to educate the community about the ordinance without issuing citations. First responders will hand out prepared materials with information on the law to drivers during that time.

When the six-month grace period is over, drivers who violate the hands-free law may receive a citation issued by a Huntsville police officer. The following fines will apply during a 24-month period: 

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

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

Little’s family escaped the wreck that scarred him 15 years ago with few injuries. But he  spent the next few months healing from a broken hip, collarbone, ribs, nose and a punctured lung.

“I was blessed to survive the accident and recover from my injuries, but others haven’t been so lucky,” he said. “Since that life-changing event 15 years ago, I’ve spent nearly every day advocating for laws that prevent distracted driving incidents in my community and am thrilled to see Huntsville take this important step toward safety.”

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