Bill would reduce penalty for texting while driving

JUNEAU — The Senate Judiciary Committee examined legislation Monday aimed at boosting enforcement of Alaska’s ban on texting while driving.

It would reduce the penalty for driving while texting without causing an injury from a misdemeanor to a violation, making it possible for officers to issue citations to distracted drivers. Stiffer penalties would remain in cases involving injury or death.

Lt. David Hanson, a spokesman with the Alaska Bureau of Highway Patrol, has testified that troopers are less likely to charge someone under current law requiring proof that a driver is distracted by a screen device. Hanson said it can be difficult for a trooper to document a driver using a mobile device. Under the current law, roughly one person per month was charged with violating the law from 2012 to 2015, he said.

Lawmakers questioned the search and seizure implications of traffic stops during which drivers are accused of texting or operating a mobile device illegally.

Sen. Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna, said some drivers choose to pull over on the side of the road and respond to messages.

“What happens in that case if there were, even, an accident that was not your own fault?” Micciche said. “Is there an easy way for them to prove that your vehicle had stopped?”

If a driver voluntarily turned a phone over to be searched, it could be easier to determine when texting had occurred. However, officers would have to apply for a warrant in situations when the phone was not voluntarily turned over.

The director of the state’s Office of Public Advocacy, Rick Allen, said there would be no incentive for a driver to voluntarily give a phone over to be searched by police. Further, he said, it is unlikely that law enforcement would take the time to seize and search a cellphone in a traffic stop situation when the drive had not caused serious physical injury or death as a result of texting while driving.

Sen. Lesil McGuire, R-Anchorage, said that while she supported the idea behind the bill, she hopes future lawmakers would revisit it to make sure it was being used appropriately.

“With every tool that you give law enforcement, there’s always the potential for abuse,” she said. “That abuse can come in the form of search and seizure and an improper stop to sort of ascertain more than what the state reason is. I would hate to see Alaskans’ individual privacy rights abused.”

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 46 states ban texting while driving.

The bill is sponsored by Senate President Kevin Meyer, R-Anchorage.

More in News

Image via Alaska Board of Fisheries
Statewide shellfish meeting rescheduled

This comes after the board bumped back its Southeast and Yakutat shellfish meeting

A State of Alaska epidemiology bulletin can be found at
State updates STI protocol after reported drop

The state has been experiencing an outbreak since 2017

The Kenai Fire Department headquarters are photographed on Feb. 13, 2018, in Kenai, Alaska. (Peninsula Clarion file)
Police identify remains found in burned car

Kenai Police and Fire departments responded to a car fire at Beaver Creek in Kenai on Jan. 7

Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy addresses members of the press on Monday, Jan. 17, 2022, in Juneau, Alaska. (Screenshot)
Dunleavy talks upcoming session, lambasts media

In a press conference Monday, Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy discussed his goals… Continue reading

Courtesy photo / Juneau Raptor Center
This golden eagle was rescued by the Juneau Raptor Center over the summer after being found weak and thin.
Rescue center, birdwatchers look back on 2021

Juneau Christmas bird count was way down this year.

This satellite image taken by Himawari-8, a Japanese weather satellite operated by Japan Meteorological Agency and released by National Institute of Information and Communications Technology (NICT), shows an undersea volcano eruption at the Pacific nation of Tonga Saturday, Jan. 15, 2022. (NICT via AP)
Tsunami advisory issued after eruption

An undersea volcano erupted Friday near the South Pacific island of Tonga, triggering concerns of damaging waves across Pacific coastlines

Flowers bloom at Soldotna City Hall on Wednesday, June 24, 2021 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Multiple public works projects underway in Soldotna

Soldotna City Council received an update on eight different projects

COVID-19. (Image courtesy CDC)
Hospitalizations rise as state reports increase in COVID cases

There were a total of 112 COVID-related hospitalizations in Alaska as of Friday

Most Read