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Georgia governor signs two new distracted driving bills into law

DOBBINS AIR RESERVE, Ga. -- Greetings from your Wing Safety Office. Several years ago, my daughter was driving in our neighborhood and knocked down a neighbor's mailbox. In a bit of a panic, she rushed home, admitted the accident to my wife and me, and we sent her back to notify our neighbor and offer to have the mailbox fixed. Later she confessed to us she had been texting while driving. She was lucky in this instance...it was only a mailbox. It could have been a child.

In 2009, the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute conducted distracted driving research, and their studies included continuous observation of drivers for over 6 million miles of driving in a tightly controlled environment. Their research showed drivers texting and driving were almost 25 times more likely to get into an accident or experience a near-crash event as a non-distracted driver. Drivers dialing on their cell phone: almost 6 times as high as non-distracted drivers. Even drivers simply reaching for an item in their vehicle (iPod, cell phone, CD, food) were almost 7 times more likely to crash or near-crash than non-distracted drivers.

What does it all mean? If you take your eyes off the road, even for an instant, you are increasing your risk of a crash. Common sense? Yeah, but researchers found texting drivers took their eyes off the road for as long as 5 seconds at a time. In those 5 seconds, at 55 mph, the vehicle travels the length of a football field. Pretty scary to know you share the road with drivers who may not even know you're next to them. Or right in front of them. Or right behind them.

In an effort to put a stop to distracted driving and make our roads safer, Governor Perdue, on 4 Jun 2010, signed new laws banning texting in Georgia for all drivers, and banning use of all handheld devices for teen drivers under the age of 18. The laws went into effect 1 Jul 2010.

Here's the language for the texting ban (Senate Bill 360 "Caleb Sorohan Act"):

"No person shall operate a motor vehicle on any public road or highway of this state while using a wireless telecommunications device to write, send, or read any text based communication, including but not limited to a text message, instant message, electronic mail, or Internet data."

The fine for offenders will be $150 and one point on their driver license.

Here's the language for the new law prohibiting drivers under the age of 18 from using a wireless communication device (House Bill 23). Specifically, the new bill:

"prohibits use of wireless telecommunications devices by persons under 18 years of age with an instruction permit or Class D license while operating a motor vehicle"

Like the texting law, the fine for offenders will be $150 and one point on their driver license. Under the bill, for a first offense, the driver's license of any teen that causes an accident while using a cell phone to talk or text would be suspended for 90 days, or until the offender turns 18.

Almost 30 other states have similar laws on the books, and almost 10 states have now banned use of handheld devices of any kind while driving. Here are links to more information. Please share with your family, friends, and coworkers. http://www.drivinglaws.org/georgia.php, http://www.distraction.gov/campaign-tools/

Bottom line? Use of any device requiring text input or receipt communication of any kind is prohibited while driving (and unsafe anyway). Use of any handheld device is prohibited for teens under 18 years of age.

Caleb Sorohan was a freshman at North Georgia College and State University who died in a crash investigators say was caused by texting and driving. His cell phone was in his lap when he died; investigators determined he'd received and responded to 6 text messages in 7 minutes while driving. He drifted completely into the oncoming lane and was hit head on by a truck and trailer. It happened in the middle of the afternoon and weather was not a factor. He was home from college for the holidays.

If you have or had teen drivers living at home, you already know this...research indicates teens average 3000 text messages a month (for the mathematically-challenged like me, that's 300 a day!). In a recent survey, over 60% of teens admitted to risky behavior while driving; over 40% of the "risky behavior" respondents claimed texting and driving as that risky behavior.

That's over 1 MILLION U.S. teens texting and driving...

It's easy to see why teens have the disproportionately highest rate of distracted-driving fatalities...

Please take the time to discuss these new laws with family, friends, and coworkers. When we took the opportunity to inform my children of the new laws, one of them NOT so wisely said, "how are they going to enforce these laws?". Governor Perdue had the same concerns prior to signing the new bills, and legislators promised to address enforcement issues.

But...much more importantly...and what I "patiently" explained to my children...these laws are unfortunately "written in blood" and are NOT the result of a lack of enforcement, but rather are the result of the dangers of people driving distracted. Those distractions are causing death and severe injury. These laws aren't about enforcement...they are about saving lives through awareness, education, and yes, even enforcement when necessary.

Caleb was a vibrant young man with a promising future; a life snuffed out prematurely by a lapse of reason. When I researched his accident for this editorial and did an internet search using his name, a very somber thing happened...besides search results on his accident, the internet also returned links to his social network pages (Facebook, MySpace). Given the impact on me, a stranger, how difficult that must be for his family and friends to be reminded of his untimely death in such a way.

Please don't drive distracted. Educate your family, your friends, and your coworkers. Do it today, remind them often...you have too much to lose, and those losses will be devastating. Take care and safe travels this summer! Be Safe.