Georgia lawmakers looking to reduce distracted driving

SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - Is Georgia ready for a statewide ban on the use of cell phones while driving?

State lawmakers are crisscrossing the state this fall, collecting opinions on what, if any, legislation should be proposed during the next session in Atlanta. The Georgia House Study Committee on Distracted Driving was in Savannah on Tuesday to discuss ideas.

Georgia is not on of the 24 states currently ban cell phone use while driving, and those who know how life-changing those crashes can be say something needs to be done now.

The CDC estimates about nine people are killed and more than 1,000 are hurt in crashes involving a distracted driver. In 2002, Jenny Harty and her family were some of those injured.

"The logging truck ran through the stop sign and ignored the rumble strips," Harty said. "When he did, he hit the tail end of the SUV. The SUV lost control, and literally was on its two left-hand tires when he hit us head on and then shaved off the whole left-hand side of our van."

Her youngest daughter, Madison, took the brunt of the impact, and the 5-year-old needed six surgeries to save her arm. The log truck driver drove away after the crash, leaving the accident classified as a hit and run.

"The question has always been was that logging truck driver distracted?" Harty said. "Was he on a phone? Was he texting? What was he doing that caused him to ignore the stop sign and the rumble strips?"

Rep. John Carson, R- Marietta and chairman of the Georgia House Study Committee on Distracted Driving, the committee is using that kind of personal input to craft new laws.

"I personally have not been affected by this issue, but when you hear people that have been affected, such as Mayor DeLoach and his family, God bless them, your heart just goes out to them," he said. "You want to find a solution to make sure these types of crashes don't ever happen again."

Savannah Mayor Eddie DeLoach's niece was one of the five Georgia Southern nursing students killed in 2015 by a distracted driver.

"What we're after is the safety of Georgia's citizens," Rep. Carson said. "That's what we're trying to protect. We're trying to prevent any more crashes like [the one that killed] the five Georgia Southern nursing students. We want to prevent as many of those as possible. That's what we're trying to do."

Rep. Carson said he's likely to introduce new distracted driving legislation in January, but he isn't certain yet what a bill could look like.

"We just want our drivers to be safe because it's not just you on the road," he said. "It may be just you in the car, but it's never just you on the road. What we want Georgia drivers to do is to be safe, and that's why we're here is to find solutions to keep Georgians safe."

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates as many as 660,000 people use electronic devices while driving during the day. Georgia doesn't have a handheld ban, but does ban all cell phone use for drivers under 18 and texting for everyone.

"When it comes to a car crash, there are no mulligans," Harty said. "There are no do overs. You got one chance to get into that vehicle, keep your eyes on the road, your hands off a phone, and give yourself a fighting chance to survive a car crash."

While there are lots of driving distractions lawmakers can't take away, Harty said cellphones are the one thing they can.

"Having that phone in your hand or putting on makeup or eating that burger are all forms of distraction," she said. "We have to be able to take away at least the one that is so people are using all the time, which is the phone. It just takes a moment to be on that phone, to take your eyes off the road, to lose focus. That can not only change your life or your family's life, but somebody else's life forever."

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