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Senators vow to get hands on with distracted driving bill

June 12th, 2019

— Three state senators who also happen to be insurance agents said Tuesday that they would restore language in a pending bill that would prohibit drivers from using a hand-held phone behind the wheel.

The House watered down House Bill 144, entitled Hands Free NC, before passing the measure last month. Instead of banning phones, the bill now simply outlaws distracted driving by making it illegal for a driver’s hands to be occupied “in distracted behavior that impairs or otherwise restricts the proper operation of the motor vehicle and results in operation that is careless, reckless, or heedless.”

“Distracted behavior” includes use of a hand-held phone or electronic device, according to the bill. A violation carries only a $100 fine – no points are assessed against a driver’s license or insurance.

Sens. Jim Burgin, R-Harnett, Vickie Sawyer, R-Iredell, and Todd Johnson, R-Union, said the bill needs to be adopted in its original format to help protect drivers and to keep automobile insurance rates low.

“I never realized how many distracted drivers are out there,” Burgin said, admitting to checking his phone when he hears an alert while he’s driving. “This is something that’s affected so many people, so many lives.”

Three mothers who lost children to distracting driving crashes spoke during a news conference calling for passage of a hands-free law in North Carolina.

“This text took my whole life away. We’ve got to do something,” said Leigh Mingus, whose daughter died in 2016 while riding in a car with a friend who was fighting through texts with her baby’s father.

“It’s a weapon,” Jeannette Nash said of a having a phone behind the wheel.

Nash’s son and his fiancee were killed injured when a 17-year-old driver hit them from behind as they were stopped in traffic while riding a motorcycle home from Myrtle Beach, S.C. Nash said the girl never put on the brakes as she approached the line of traffic because she was too preoccupied by her phone.

Tammy Garlock, whose son was killed in a crash 11 years ago Wednesday because he was texting while driving, said expanding existing North Carolina law with a hands-free measure would help law enforcement.

Texting while driving is already illegal in North Carolina – drivers under 18 are generally prohibited from using a cellphone altogether while driving – but it’s difficult to enforce.

Distracted driving is a factor in more than 54,000 crashes in North Carolina – nearly 20 percent statewide – according to statistics compiled by the state Department of Transportation. It contributes to more crashes and far more injuries than alcohol, but less than half as many fatalities, those statistics show.

“This is a public safety issue,” Johnson said, noting that he was almost hit by a distracted driver recently.

Johnson said he was discussing the distracted driving bill with Sawyer when a driver looking at his phone ran him off the road. “He had no concept what was going on,” he said.

Sawyer called the incident “a sign from God” that North Carolina needs a hands-free law.

Rep. Kevin Corbin, R-Macon, the primary sponsor of the bill, said he’s confident the House will support the measure if the Senate restores the hands-free language, even though House Speaker Tim Moore has opposed a complete hand-held ban.

If it becomes law, the measure would take effect Dec. 1. Nineteen other states and the District of Columbia already prohibit hand-held devices behind the wheel.

Article source: https://www.wral.com/senators-vow-to-get-hands-on-with-distracted-driving-bill/18445154/

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