Proposed North Carolina law aims to curb distracted driving, hand-held phone use behind the wheel

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RALEIGH – As distracted driving has become one of the top factors in traffic accidents and fatalities on roadways across the country, lawmakers at North Carolina General Assembly are looking to join a growing list of states to ban hand-held communication while behind the wheel.

Last week, Senator Jeff Tarte of Mecklenburg County filed SB393, the Brian Garlock Act, in response to mounting traffic fatalities caused by distracted driving. Support for the proposal included backing from New Hanover County State Senator Michael Lee, a sponsor of the bill.

“I think the accident over the weekend in Texas where a truck driver was texting and caused an accident killing 13 is an example of why we need to do more to curb distracted driving,” said Lee. “While we have some laws on the books, we need to continue this conversation.

“Similar legislation has been introduced in the past and never made it through.  Continuing the discussion is productive and we will continue to push forward and hopefully will have this bill heard before the crossover deadline.”

North Carolina lawmakers have proposed a law to ban hand-held communication while driving. Photo courtesy- American Safety Council.
North Carolina lawmakers have proposed a law to ban hand-held communication while driving. Photo courtesy- American Safety Council.

Brian Garlock was a 17-year-old Charlotte native who lost his life while using a hand-held cell phone and driving in June of 2008. The legislation, named in his honor, was introduced to state lawmakers two years ago, but never gained momentum.

What is Distracted Driver Awareness Month? 

The proposal was refiled in anticipation of Distracted Driver Awareness Month this April. Distracted Driving Awareness Month aims to educate and draw attention to the dangers of distracted driving, which has become an epidemic across the United States.

AAA Carolinas has jumped behind this effort, urging North Carolina lawmakers to move forward with a new law that would make it illegal to use hand-held communication devices, such as cell phones, while driving.

The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety has recently conducted research that shows distracted driving, especially cell phone use, can be just as dangerous, or even worse than drunk driving.

According to distracteddriveraccidents.com, over 50 percent of car crashes involve cell phone use, and 25 percent involve texting while driving. The CDC reports up to eight people die each day in distracted driving related crashes.

“If participating in dangerous behaviors, such as texting or using a hand-held device while driving is equivalent to drunk driving, why are these acts still legal behind the wheel?” asked AAA Carolinas President and CEO Dave Parson. “Passing the Brian Garlock Act is a no-brainer. How many more North Carolinians will die before lawmakers will act?”

Nearly 3,000 drivers were cited for texting while driving in North Carolina last year. (Courtesy photo.)
Nearly 3,000 drivers were cited for texting while driving in North Carolina last year. (Courtesy photo.)

How is distracted driving affecting numbers in North Carolina? 

In 2016, 54,279 crashes in North Carolina were the result of distracted driving. These crashes lead to 26,999 injuries and 177 fatalities. Nearly 3,000 people in North Carolina were cited for texting while driving in 2016.

Which states ban hand-held communication while driving? 

Fourteen states have already passed similar hands-free legislation. North Carolina would be the first in the southeast United States to do so.

The Brian Garlock Act would expand on current North Carolina distracted driving laws already in place. The proposed legislation states that a person driving can only use a mobile device in hands-free mode. There are provisions in the bill that would protect drivers using hand-held devices in case of emergencies.

How to stop distracted driving?

With more and more attention being put on distracted driving, there are apps for your phone to stop texting and driving. Ultimately, it’s a choice to leave your mobile device alone while behind the wheel.