Alabama bills address, left-lane use, red-light cameras and probable cause

| 4/16/2008

Several bills of interest to the trucking industry have been offered this year in the Alabama Legislature. Those efforts include legislation to limit left lane use, authorize red-light cameras in two cities, and give law enforcement officers more power to arrest people for misdemeanors.

One bill awaiting consideration before the full House is intended to combat aggressive driving on multi-lane highways by keeping the far left lane clear of most traffic. Sponsored by Rep. Jimmy Martin, D-Clanton, HB106 would prohibit traffic from lingering in the so-called passing lane.

Left-lane use would be limited to vehicles passing or overtaking slower moving traffic. Violators would receive warnings for the first six months. After that, $25 fines would be handed out. Offenses would not count against driving records.

At least 20 states have similar left lane restriction rules, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

A separate bill awaiting consideration on the House floor would allow the cities of Tuscaloosa and Gadsden to install automated cameras at intersections for traffic control.

The cameras snap pictures of red-light runners’ vehicle tags. Tickets are mailed to the vehicles’ owners, regardless of who was driving at the time. The city of Montgomery, AL, already approved an ordinance to allow use of the enforcement tool.

Sponsored by Rep. Robert Bentley, R-Tuscaloosa, HB24 would authorize law enforcement in Tuscaloosa and Gadsden to issue $25 tickets for running red lights. Revenue from the tickets would stay with the municipality. Offenses wouldn’t count against driving records or insurance rates.

Advocates say the bill is about safety and using technology in a helpful way.

Opponents, including trucking industry officials, question the claim that cameras are intended solely to keep people safe.

“The motivation of every player in this deal is economics. Whether it’s the local jurisdiction or the manufacturer: That’s not reasonable justification for doing that,” said Todd Spencer, executive vice president of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association.

Others question the effectiveness of such intersection cameras, arguing they have the potential to distract drivers and cause more fender-bender accidents. In fact, multiple studies have found that crashes actually increased in cities with red-light cameras.

Also awaiting consideration on the House floor is a measure that would give law enforcement officers more power during roadside stops. Sponsored by Rep. David Grimes, R-Montgomery, HB35 would allow officers during investigations of wrecks to arrest people for any misdemeanor traffic offense where there is probable cause.

Existing state law does not generally authorize an officer to arrest a person for a misdemeanor traffic offense that is not committed in the presence of the officer.

To view other legislative activities of interest for Alabama, click here.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor