More than one in three drivers will get into injury or fatal car accidents in Alabama in their lifetimes, according to 2017 crash data. The Alabama Department of Transportation reported 156,993 total traffic accidents in Alabama in 2017, with 47,771 injuries and 948 deaths. Lawmakers in the state strive to bring down these numbers with safety initiatives, awareness campaigns and the passing of new road safety laws. Two such laws will take effect over Labor Day weekend 2019.
The Backseat Seat belt Law
In 2017, almost 60% of people in Alabama who lost their lives in motor vehicle accidents were not buckled up. Wearing a seat belt can make a huge difference to the severity of someone’s injuries in a collision. A seat belt can keep a passenger in place during an accident, reducing the odds of body parts striking objects within the vehicle. It can also prevent ejection from the vehicle. Despite the proven ability of seat belts to save lives, many people fail to buckle up – largely due to a loophole in Alabama’s seat belt law.
Before the new law passed, adult vehicle passengers riding in the backseat did not legally have to wear seat belts in Alabama. Failing to wear a seat belt as someone 18 or older in the backseat would previously not result in a traffic ticket. In a collision, however, the adult not wearing a seat belt could become a deadly projectile. The person could collide with others in the vehicle who were wearing their seat belts, causing significant injuries such as traumatic brain damage.
The new law requires all passengers – children, adults, front seat, backseat – to wear seat belts. The law goes into effect Sunday, September 1st. The police will be able to write tickets for adult passengers who are not buckled up in backseats as a secondary offense. The timing of the bill was not accidental; holiday weekends historically have higher rates of car accident fatalities in Alabama. Five people died in Labor Day car accidents in Alabama in 2017.
The Anti-Road Rage Act
The other new safety law going into effect on Labor Day weekend addresses left-lane drivers. A common issue on Alabama’s highways is people using the left-hand lane when not passing. Staying in the left lane for a prolonged period can disrupt the proper order of things on the highway. The correct lane to pass is to the left of the other driver. If someone is taking up the left lane, however, this could force drivers to pass to the right. This could contribute to traffic congestion and collisions. It can also lead to aggressive road-rage drivers stuck behind slow drivers in the fast lane.
The Anti-Road Rage Act, as lawmakers call the new safety bill, passed the Senate with a 31-1 vote. Gov. Kay Ivey signed it into law. The bill makes it illegal to travel in the leftmost lane of an interstate roadway or state highway in Alabama for more than 1.5 miles without passing a vehicle. Exceptions exist if the driver is using the left lane to avoid roadway hazards, move over for emergency vehicles or if the highway is congested. As of September 1st, 2019, drivers in Alabama will have to adapt to the new keep-right law.
For the first 60 days of the bill’s enactment, law enforcement will only be able to issue warnings to drivers who break the rule. After the first 60 days, drivers may receive traffic citations and tickets for staying in the left lane longer than 1.5 miles without a valid reason. The new law aims to improve the flow of traffic, prevent road rage and reduce congestion by enforcing the use of the left lane as a passing lane only. While the left lane has always been a passing lane, many drivers disregard this rule and use it as a travel lane. With the new safety law in place, this will change.