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Drivers, put down those mobile devices

It’s one of the most powerful, and horrific, videos available online.

It’s one I witnessed over five years ago upon attending a “Drive to Live” campaign conducted by the North Carolina Highway Patrol at Gates County High School. There, NCHP officials initially conducted a bit of “serious fun” by setting up cones in one of the parking lots at the school. One-by-one, a dozen or so students were instructed to operate a golf cart while receiving and sending text messages on their cell phones. The end result, while entertaining to watch, was predictable….students making impact with and running over those orange cones.

This was a low-speed exercise, one where the NCHP Troopers were able to get their point across that there are consequences when a driver takes their eyes off the road, even for just a few seconds.

Then, inside the school, those same students witnessed a video created in 2009 by law enforcement officials in Great Britain. Despite the fact that the video was staged, the 4-plus minutes of extremely graphic images are hard to forget. It shows a teen driver initially receiving a text and in the process of responding – with her eyes, of course, looking down at the handheld electronic device the entire time – when she drifts across the centerline and crashes head-on into another vehicle.

There are two other occupants inside the first vehicle. The graphic video shows all three being tossed around inside the car like rag dolls. Then their vehicle is broadsided in the passenger-side door by another vehicle. The end result is deadly.

It should go without saying that texting while driving is a combustible mix.

Statistics show that, on average, a driver will look at their cell phone for five seconds when reading a text or perhaps searching for a number to dial. At 55 mph, a vehicle will travel the length of a football field –100 yards for those unfamiliar with that sport – in five seconds. A lot can happen in five seconds, or 100 yards, with a driver’s eyes somewhere other than the road ahead.

And distracted driving isn’t just limited to young people. Now, with smartphones – complete with Internet access – drivers of all ages can check their email, log onto their social media page, and surf the web. Thusly, distracted driving has reached epidemic levels.

Last week, North Carolina Senator Jeff Tarte filed SB393, the Brian Garlock Act, in response to mounting traffic fatalities caused by distracted driving. 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 bill, named in his honor, was introduced to the North Carolina General Assembly two years ago, but never gained momentum.

The proposed legislation would make it illegal to use hand-held communication devices, such as cell phones, behind the wheel while driving. That would even include making a phone call, but it does allow the operation of a such a device in a hands-free mode. There are provisions in the bill that would protect drivers using hand-held devices in case of emergencies.

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.

In 2016, 54,279 crashes in North Carolina were the result of distracted driving. These crashes lead to 26,999 injuries and 177 fatalities. 2,925 people in North Carolina were cited for texting while driving in 2016.

The Brian Garlock Act is common-sense legislation aimed at saving lives. It’s a bill that I encourage both chambers of the NC General Assembly to support.

In the meantime, all drivers need to put down their mobile devices when the vehicle is in operation. Whatever message you need to send or receive, or whatever phone call you need to make can wait until you are safely stopped and out of the lane of travel.

 

Cal Bryant is the Editor of Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact him at cal.bryant@r-cnews.com or 252-332-7207.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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