A new law went into effect at the beginning of this month that will result in more traffic citations issued at the scene of car accidents in Alabama.
Signed into law on May 3, 2016 by the governor, House Bill 1 authorizes law enforcement officers to issue citations at the scene of a car wreck for traffic violations that led to the crash.
Previously, police could only issue tickets if they witnessed the traffic violation. If someone swerved into another lane, or ran a red light, and the officer saw it, they could hand out a ticket, but if they weren’t witnesses, they couldn’t – even if there were other eyewitnesses on the scene.
The text of the law says:
“This bill would…authorize a law enforcement officer to issue a traffic citation subsequent to an accident to a driver involved in a traffic accident if, based on the personal investigation of the officer, there are reasonable grounds to believe that the person committed a traffic offense for which a citation may be written.”
According to bill sponsors, the focus is on safety, not revenue. At least one area law enforcement officer agrees. “The law is really written to hold drivers more accountable,” said Sgt. Brian Nelson, of the Hoover Police Department. “
As an attorney, I know that any new law that impacts how traffic accidents are handled will require close scrutiny. One issue with the new law is what, exactly, constitutes “reasonable grounds” for giving a driver a ticket. The bill doesn’t define the term, and while there are statutory and common law definitions of what is “reasonable,” much of the final decision may be left up to the officer, or a judge or a jury.
Another potential issue is that the fact that a driver was issued a citation could be a powerful indicator of fault or liability should the case go to trial. A driver who is being challenged in court by a plaintiff is at a disadvantage if they have been cited by the police for an action that, in the eyes of an officer, contributed to the accident. Of course, this means that victims of car accidents have another tool at their disposal to seek compensation they deserve.
Additionally, some have raised questions about giving police the leeway to issue tickets even though they didn’t personally witness the offense. This is not unusual, however; officers can arrest individuals who commit other crimes without being witnesses themselves, if there is supporting evidence – like other eyewitness accounts – to justify the arrest.
At any rate, this new law could impact your case if you’re involved in a car wreck and have to seek compensation for personal injuries or damages to your vehicle. Talk to an Alabama car accident attorney to learn more – and be extra careful out there on the roads.