Staying on Alabama’s roads should be every driver’s main priority. Whenever we get behind the wheel of a vehicle, we should be 100% focused on getting to our destination without hurting ourselves or someone else.
That’s because driving is one of the most dangerous things people can do on a daily basis – especially in Alabama. The fatality rate of people who drive or ride in vehicles in our state is 13.7 deaths per 100,000 people, nearly twice the national rate of 7.0 deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control. This rate puts Alabama as the seventh deadliest state in the nation when it comes to deaths on the road.
What can Alabamians do to avoid becoming another casualty? The answer involves two things: Know the state’s traffic laws, and adopt safe driving practices.
This 2017 Alabama Driver’s Safety guide will give you the knowledge you need to stay on the right side of the law and protect yourself and others while on the road. We’ll talk about laws that help keep us all safe, then discuss how to drive in a way that increases the chance you’ll get to your destination safely – without tragedy.
Knowing the Laws of the Road
Traffic laws in Alabama are designed to keep us safe. When everyone abides by the laws created by our federal, state, and local governments, we all have a higher chance of avoiding accidents and their tragic consequences.
Below are some of the most fundamental Alabama traffic laws that every driver should know.
Impaired Driving Laws
Impaired driving is one of the biggest causes of injuries and deaths on the road in Alabama and the nation as a whole.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, there were 820 total traffic fatalities in Alabama in 2014. Of those, 38 percent involved alcohol, and 32 percent came when the highest blood alcohol content (BAC) in the crash was 0.08 or above.
To curb impaired driving, Alabama has created a series of laws to protect drivers and provide incentives against driving while impaired.
Legal Limit for Alcohol
In Alabama, the legal limit for driving under the influence of alcohol is a BAC of 0.02 percent if you are under the age of 21. If you’re 21 years or older, the BAC limit is 0.08 percent (0.04 percent for commercial drivers).
Penalties for DUI convictions are stiff. Your first conviction can carry with it up to one year in jail, a fine ranging from $500 to $2,000, and a mandatory 90-day suspension of your license with DUI school attendance. If you have four convictions within a five-year period, you are guilty of a Class C felony that calls for 1-10 years of imprisonment, a $4,000-$10,000 fine, and revocation of your license for five years.
Note that it is also illegal to drive while under the influence of marijuana or any other substance that impairs the ability of the driver to safely operate the vehicle.
In the state of Alabama, drivers are required to move over on the road whenever an emergency vehicle is approaching with emergency lights activated and flashing, according to the Alabama Move-Over Law (Title 32, Section 32-5A-58.2).
The actual text of the law can be found here, but it basically says:
If you’re on a road with 4 or more lanes:
- Move over one lane if you see an emergency vehicle approaching.
- If it’s not safe to do so, slow down to at least 15 MPH below the posted speed limit.
If you’re on a two-lane road:
- Move over as far as possible without leaving the lane.
- If it’s not safe to do so, slow down to at least 15 MPH below the posted speed limit if the speed limit is 25 MPH or higher.
- If the speed limit is 20 MPH or less, slow down to 10 MPH.
If you break the law, it’s a misdemeanor that calls for a fine of $25. If it’s the second time, you’ll be fined $50, and if it’s the third time, you’ll be fined $100.
Move-over laws are extremely important to follow. They protect first responders like law enforcement personnel and medical personnel who are racing to the scene of an emergency. They protect drivers and their passengers from getting in an accident. And, they protect the people at the scene who need help quickly.
Seat Belt Laws
Seat belts have saved countless lives since they were mandated by federal law on January 1, 1968. Alabama seat belt laws largely mirror other laws that have been passed across the country, which has helped Alabama achieve a 91.4% seat belt usage rate as of 2010.
According to the Alabama Department of Public Health, 75% of all crashes occur within 25 miles of home, and on roads with a maximum speed of 40 mph or less. Some believe that seat belts are only needed on highways at higher speeds, but that’s not true – and it doesn’t take a fast crash to cause serious injury to unbelted passengers.
Additionally, seat belts reduce the risk of death in a car accident by 45% – and by 54% for toddlers and 71% for infants.
Alabama’s Mandatory Laws
Seat belt use in Alabama is mandatory for any passenger who occupies a front seat of a vehicle. If you are at least 15 years old, you don’t have to wear a seat belt if you’re sitting anywhere other than the front seats. If a person is younger than 15, they must wear some kind of approved restraint at all times when the vehicle is in motion, regardless of where they sit.
These laws are subject to primary enforcement, which means an Alabama law enforcement officer can write a ticket if he or she witnesses an infraction.
Cell Phone Laws
Driving while talking or texting on a cell phone has become one of the main causes of accidents on the road, not just in Alabama but across the nation. The rise of injuries and deaths caused by using a cell phone or other electronic device while driving is an epidemic, which is why most states have passed laws banning or restricting cell phone usage. Alabama in fact was the 38th state to ban texting while driving, and similar restrictions exist for other uses depending on age.
Texting Is Banned for All Drivers
For example, using a mobile phone at all while driving is illegal for drivers under the age of 18. For all drivers, texting is illegal while driving. And anyone who has a restricted license can’t use a mobile phone at all regardless of age.
Specifically, the law governing texting while driving in Alabama – Section 32-5A-350 in state code – forbids using any “wireless telecommunication devices” that are “used to write, send, or read text or data through manual input” while operating a moving vehicle. This covers texts, emailing, and any text-based communication, but doesn’t forbid dialing a number.
Using Voice-Operated Devices
You can use voice-operated devices, which have become more popular (but still contribute to distracted driving and may be just as dangerous), and you can use navigation devices. However, you have to program the destination in your GPS before you start moving. You can’t change the destination or input addresses while you’re driving.
A Note on Distracted Driving
It’s important to understand that even though you can use hands-free electronic devices in your car while driving, that doesn’t mean you’re being safe. In fact, evidence suggests hands-free electronic devices are just as distracting and dangerous as devices that you operate with your hands. Both can contribute to driving that is in some ways similar to driving under the influence.
Drivers should limit all use of technology while driving. When you’re operating a vehicle, you should be solely focused on driving safely. Use electronic devices only when it’s an emergency. Vow to avoid using an electronic device – with or without your hands – while you’re in the driver’s seat, regardless of if the car is moving or not.
Work Zone Laws
On any given day in any given area, construction workers can be found on our state’s highways, roads, and streets. Unfortunately, these workers are at extreme danger of being hurt or killed due to reckless or careless driving from drivers entering clearly-marked construction zones.
According to Drive Safe Alabama, there were 504 work zone injuries and 21 deaths in 2014 in Alabama. The vast majority of these casualties are avoidable, because most are caused by drivers who don’t take worker safety seriously.
To protect workers, Alabama has passed laws protecting workers from speeding drivers. The law states that fines for speeding tickets are doubled if they occur in a clearly-marked construction zone while workers are present.
Given how costly speeding tickets can be, the high price encourages drivers to be more mindful of their speed while approaching construction zones.
Left Lane Law
Many drivers in Alabama believe the left lane on the interstate is open for long-term travel. Contrary to popular belief, though, driving in the left lane is illegal for everything except passing another vehicle.
Alabama state troopers can and will issue citations for drivers who are driving in the left lane of an interstate if they’re not passing another driver. Once the vehicle has been passed, the passing driver must move over to the next lane.
In fact, according to Alabama state law, drivers who aren’t driving at the “normal speed of traffic” are required to move over to the right lanes. Driving in the left lane continuously can not only slow down traffic, but can also make accidents more likely to happen.
Driving Safely on the Road
Staying safe on the roads isn’t just about knowing the law – it’s about knowing how to drive safely. Most accidents are preventable and are caused by reckless or inappropriate driving.
By following the right tips, you can keep you and your passengers safe and reduce the chance of getting into an accident.
Decades ago, drivers were taught to “drive defensively.” That same mindset still works today and can help you keep yourself safe on the road.
Defensive driving is defined by Safe Practices for Motor Vehicle Operations ANSI/ASSE Z15.1 and the National Safety Council as “driving to save lives, time, and money, in spite of the conditions around you and the actions of others.” It means to use vigilance and situational awareness to make sure you’re reducing the risk of collision and staying safe no matter what’s going on around you.
At the core of defensive driving is situational awareness (SA). SA means to know what’s going on around your vehicle at all times.
To maintain SA awareness:
- Adjust your side-view mirrors so you can’t see your car. If you can see your car from your side-view mirrors while seated normally, you are creating blind spots.
- Check your mirrors (side-view and rear-view) every 6-8 seconds.
- Look left, right, straight ahead, and left again before moving forward after coming to a stop at a light or a sign.
- Stay aware of traffic on the on-ramp when passing one while driving on the highway or interstate.
- Drive with your headlights on at all times, even during the day. Cars are four times easier to see with headlights on.
- Keep your eyes moving around the road and avoid staring at the road for long periods of time, which can lead to “zoning out”.
- Be careful when changing lanes to make sure there’s no one in the other lane in your way.
Anticipating Dangerous Situations
Being a defensive driver means anticipating dangerous situations on the road. This includes being wary of other drivers. Never make assumptions about the other driver’s intent. Only go by what their vehicles are actually doing. For example, never assume that another driver sees you, or even knows you’re there. Also don’t assume that a driver will stop at a red light or stop sign.
Follow these tips to help you better anticipate danger.
- You should be at least three seconds behind the vehicle in front of you while moving. This means you should have at least three seconds of reaction time. This “three-second rule” can be followed by taking an object ahead and starting to count once the car in front of you passes the object. If you reach the object before two seconds are over, you’re following too close.
- In difficult or inclement weather conditions, double the three-second rule.
- Pay close attention to traffic entering from any merging lanes, especially on-ramps on interstates.
- Don’t hesitate when a car in front of you starts to slow – immediately start to slow to maintain a safe distance.
- Prepare yourself for other drivers making mistakes, and think of what you will do if that mistake happens.
Safe Driving Tactics
Driving safely means you have control of your vehicle at all times and are being prudent. Below are tips to help you become a safer driver altogether.
- Hydroplaning during wet weather is dangerous. To reduce risks, slow down gradually – don’t slam on the brakes – when your car hits a wet patch.
- Keep your speeds below 55 mph to reduce the chance of hydroplaning during inclement weather.
- If your car skids, don’t slam on the brake. Instead, keep control of the wheel and lightly put pressure on the brakes. If you’re fishtailing, turn slightly into the skid but don’t overcorrect.
- When following a semi-truck or bus, if you can’t see the driver in the rear-view mirrors, the driver can’t see you.
- Avoid being to the right of a semi-truck when it’s making a turn.
- Don’t use technology at all while driving, unless it’s an emergency.
- If an animal jumps out in front of your vehicle, don’t swerve. Instead, lock the brakes and hit your horn while bracing for impact. (Note: The sole exception is if you are driving up north and come across a moose in the road. In that situation, swerving is advised, since hitting an adult moose can be extremely dangerous for front-seat occupants owing to the weight and height of the animal.)
What to Do After an Accident
You can follow the rules of the road and drive safely and still get into an accident. They do happen, and happen often; in 2014, there were over 131,000 reported traffic accidents. That’s one every 240 seconds.
If you become involved in an accident, here is a simple, step-by-step process to help all those who were involved in the accident.
- If your car is still capable of moving, stop and stay at the scene. Driving off is not only dangerous to those who were hurt at the scene, but it’s also a crime.
- Check for injuries in your vehicle.
- Protect yourself. If you can exit the vehicle, make sure the accident site is visible by turning on your emergency flashers or setting flares.
- Check for injuries in the other vehicle. You may need to administer first aid or alert first responders to injuries.
- Call 911 if medical attention is required. Tell them what happened and, most importantly, where you’re located and the condition of the injured.
- Report the accident to police, state troopers, or the sheriff’s department if medical assistance isn’t required.
- Make a record of the scene. Take pictures of all vehicles and anything in the area that’s relevant. Make a note of all the details you can; this will help later.
- Find witnesses to the accident. Ask for their contact information.
- Exchange info with the other drivers. You should exchange names, addresses, contact details, driver license numbers, license plate numbers, and insurance information.
- Give an accurate report to the police. Don’t assume, guess, or make up information. Tell the officer everything you can recall. If you’re not sure if you’re injured, say you’re not sure, instead of saying you aren’t injured. Often, injuries from an accident won’t be apparent until some time after the accident.
- Seek medical attention. Once you leave the scene, get checked out by a physician. Take notes of any injuries or treatment.
- Notify your insurance company. Do so in a timely manner. Many policies require immediate notification.
- Contact your attorney. Not all accidents require an attorney, but when property damage and injuries are involved, talking to a lawyer is always recommended so you protect your rights.
Above all, stay calm. Think about what you would do if you were in an accident until it becomes second nature. The more you rehearse in your head, the more calm you’ll actually be should the unexpected happen.
Stay Safe – Drive Like Your Life Depends On It
Driving can be extremely dangerous. For most of us, it’s the most dangerous thing we’ll ever do in our lives.
Every time you get behind the wheel, drive as if your life depends on your performance – because it does. If everyone on the road would take safety seriously, we could dramatically reduce the rate of traffic accidents and deaths.
Stay safe, drive carefully, be aware of other drivers, and focus on getting to your destination without any incidents.