Alabama editorial roundup

News,Science and Technology

Recent editorials from Alabama newspapers:

Dec. 27

Birmingham (Ala.) News on the state's new vehicle liability insurance law:

The word "mandatory," when used in the context of a law, means "permitting no option; not to be disregarded or modified."

Alabama has had a "mandatory" vehicle liability insurance law on the books for well more than a decade — but not really. What makes a mandatory insurance law work is strong enforcement and instant verification.

Law enforcement officers have done a pretty good job on enforcement. If a motorist is stopped, an officer will likely make him produce proof of insurance along with his driver license.

Except that proof of insurance is too often more "poof" of insurance.

An uninsured driver can show a law officer a "valid" insurance card and have no insurance in place at all. The vehicle owner buys an insurance policy, gets a card indicating insurance in place, then cancels the policy. The "valid" insurance card doesn't suddenly disappear from the irresponsible driver's wallet, so it's there to wave before a traffic officer when needed.

While enforcement of the mandatory liability insurance law has been adequate, the loophole has been in verification, and, thankfully, that's about to change.

On Jan. 1, the state starts enforcing a law that allows instant insurance verification. The new system, overseen by the state Department of Revenue, has been a long time coming. It did very little good to require auto liability insurance, then leave a hole in the law so big you could drive an uninsured Humvee through it.

Now, thanks to a law sponsored by state Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, the owners of the estimated 900,000 Alabama vehicles without insurance are more likely to get caught.

As reported by The Associated Press, the Insurance Research Council says about 22 percent of Alabama's private vehicles don't have insurance. That's the sixth-highest rate in the nation. State Revenue Commissioner Julie Magee told the AP she hopes that figure will fall below 10 percent under the new system.

Let's hope so. One of the top complaints received at the state Insurance Department comes from people who have been in a car crash with someone who is uninsured. ...

Besides, having insurance is just the right thing to do. Finally now, vehicle liability insurance is truly becoming mandatory in Alabama.



Dec. 30

The Gadsden (Ala.) Times on the state's texting-while-driving law:

Punishments should mirror the severity of the offense, but Alabama's law against texting while driving levies only a $25 fine for a first offense, $50 for a second and $75 for each subsequent offense. Each conviction also carries a two-point penalty on a license. Those penalties are not enough to get the attention of many drivers.

Gov. Robert Bentley signed Alabama's texting-while-driving law in May. It took effect in August and since then Alabama state troopers have written 59 texting-related citations. Alabama State Trooper officials say they have heard of only seven citations being written by other law enforcement agencies.

There's no way to tell how many drivers have texted while behind the wheel, but we're betting the number of citations touches only a very small percentage of offenders. Troopers patrol rural areas more than they do urban ones, so local law enforcement agencies need to step up their enforcement efforts.

Higher penalties for something that many of us have done may seem extreme, but someone who has lost a loved one because of a distracted driver might not think so.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in 2009 estimated that distracted driving — and texting is a leading cause of distracted driving — caused 15 deaths and 1,200 injuries a day. We'll do the math for you. That's 5,475 deaths and 438,000 injuries a year.

While many states have enacted anti-texting laws since 2009, most are like Alabama's in that they don't carry significant penalties.

State Rep. Jim McClendon, R-Springville, authored Alabama's bill. He says many drivers have told him they no longer text until they get the car stopped.

That's encouraging, but we can't help but think stronger penalties would go even further to curtail the problem. We're not advocating making texting from behind the wheel a felony, but doubling the fines might be in order.

As McClendon has no immediate plans to alter the law, we must hope drivers will do the responsible thing and not text or give in to other distractions while driving.

You know who you are and what you're doing. Please stop.



Dec. 26

TimesDaily, Florence, Ala., on arming teachers:

One can imagine a scene in which a teacher pulls a sidearm and becomes a hero by shooting an armed attacker before he can harm students.

One also can imagine a scenario in which students suffer even greater carnage with bullets flying back and forth between intruder and teacher.

The debate over whether to let teachers do double duty as armed security guards is growing across the United States after the Dec. 14 attack at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

Harrold, Texas, is one location where teachers and school administrators carry weapons into the classroom, according to the Associated Press. Legislators in a growing number of states — including Oklahoma, Missouri, Minnesota, South Dakota and Oregon — want similar laws. It is the kind of bad idea that certain populist legislators in Alabama and Tennessee might embrace.

Opponents argue, rightly so, that having more people armed at school could lead to more injuries and deaths. They point to an August shoot-out on the streets of New York City in which police accidentally wounded nine bystanders. If trained police can accidentally shoot so many people, what does it say about the potential for harm from someone who is trained to teach, not fight crime?

Also, there is the fact that school employees can go bad or have intense disagreements among themselves that could turn deadly with the presence of weapons.

Hopefully, the shooting deaths of 20 students and six school employees in Newtown will lead to meaningful changes across the nation. Rather than arming teachers and administrators, however, the focus should be elsewhere.

The changes should start with securing access points to schools. Simply requiring all visitors to sign in at the office is not the solution when an intruder can simply bypass the office without anyone noticing.

The nation also needs to bolster the system of background checks and waiting periods by requiring them at gun shows as well as at stores.

A ban on high-volume ammunition magazines makes good sense. Even a trained police resource officer armed with a pistol might be little defense against an intruder who can fire 30 or 100 shots without reloading.

Greater access to affordable mental health services, rather than more cutbacks, also could help reduce the dangers.

It appears President Barack Obama is finally showing leadership on this issue. Working along with other lawmakers, he should be able to find commonsense solutions that protect schoolchildren while preserving the Second Amendment.


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