Georgia Distracted Driving Bill Aims to Save Lives

Advanced Media Writing

BY ROBERT THOMAS

Read the heart-wrenching perspective of Natalie Bacho, who lost her daughter to distracted driving and advocated in favor of the recent Georgia distracted driving bill. Opponents to the bill feel it is a government overreach, but police feel it is necessary. The bill aims to save lives and studies reveal it is likely to do so.

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KENNESAW, Ga. – While others were enjoying the festivities of the Christmas season, shopping for loved ones and enjoying time with their families, Natalie Bacho sat at Abby’s, her 9-year-old daughter, hospital bedside as she clung to life by a thread.

Abby was in the car with the rest of her family on the way to look at Christmas lights after a meal out with family on December 22 when the car was struck by an 18-year-old driver who was talking on his phone at the time. The collision resulting from this young distracted driver put three of Bacho’s family members in critical condition, one of whom was Abby who eventually passed away on Christmas day. “That one second choice of a young driver completely ripped our family apart,” Bacho said.

Natalie Bacho’s story is just one of thousands of Georgian families who have had their loved one ripped from them as a result of distracted driving, and like Natalie Bacho, many are fighting hard to ensure the same fate doesn’t happen to more families.

Largely due to the push of families like hers, House Bill 673, which is designed to prohibit motorists from holding their phones while driving, recently passed the Georgia legislature and is on its way to being signed by Gov. Nathan Deal who has already endorsed the measure. However, many Georgians disagree with the measure and believe it is an overreach by government and a violation of their rights.

Opposition To HB 673

Some opponents to the bill claim that the loss of life is too insignificant to warrant such actions by the state. “Should we really do such a massive overreach legislating the few incidences that happen, versus the millions that happen where nothing goes wrong?” Kennesaw State University student Mike Brock said. Many like Brock are skeptical of the actual impact that the law would have in decreasing the number of distracted drivers and traffic fatalities. “People are still going to do it. People will use their cell phones regardless,” he says.

Asa Cooper, a local resident who supports the bill, says that while he finds it easy to make excuses to use his phone for just “one quick second” while driving, and is admittedly reluctant to obey the law, but he understands the need for the bill. Even Bacho admitted that she would occasionally use her phone before the tragedy of losing her daughter to distracted driving.

Changing Perspectives on Driving

“People have to understand that you just can’t do that, that lives are literally in their hands,” Bacho says. “If we have a law in place that it’s going prevent them from doing that, and their going to know that that’s against the law if they’re reaching for something and they have it in their hands, then I think that’s when we’re really going to see a major change in those numbers and lives.”

Bacho says that she believes her daughter’s right to life is far more important than someone’s selfish desire to use their phone while driving. Also, despite the skepticism by some of the real impact, 13 and the 15 states that have passed a similar law saw a significant decrease in the rate of traffic fatalities within two years of their implementation. In addition to this, according to a 2017 report by the National Traffic Law Center, “Studies have shown the overall crash risk increases 3.6 times over model driving when a driver interacts with a handheld device.”

Enforcement of Law

Many opponents of the bill say that police should simply better enforce the existing texting while driving ban to address this issue. However, there are technical legal barriers to police enforcing the existing law. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, it’s difficult for many police officers to tell if someone is texting or just dialing a phone number, which is legal under the current law. This unenforceable middle ground Bacho says, led to widespread backing of the measure by Georgia law enforcement in the council proceedings prior to the passage of the bill by the legislature.

Despite the support for the current bill, some remain skeptical of whether the law actually goes far enough. The initial version of the bill contained a steep increase to the first-offense fine for distracted driving to $300, which according to Bacho the families that testified before the legislature were widely in support of. However, before passage the senate amended the bill to lower the proposed first-offense fine to just $50. Bacho was also worried about the level of distraction present even when using a hands-free device to talk on the phone. “When we are engaged in a phone call, especially when you’re driving, you’re cognitively engaged in something else,” Bacho said.

Hands-free Devices

Although, other voices, such as local resident Michael Browning, argue that as our cars become better at connecting to our phones and allowing more hands-free use of our devices, that fatalities from distracted driving will decrease. Browning believes that part of the issue is in older model cars not easily syncing with our phones and requiring drivers to touch their phones to change a song or use navigation. “As our cars allow us to be more hands-free to do the things that we want to do, I think that at that point there’s no excuse for me to have my phone in my hand because I don’t need it to control my music, I don’t need it to send this message, and I don’t need it to call this person,” Browning said.

Saving Other Lives

After the tragic loss of her daughter, not only did Bacho testify before the legislature in favor of the bill, she also decided to form the “Abby’s Angels Foundation”, which she says seeks to bring awareness and education to drivers of all ages of the dangers of distracted driving, provide school supplies and encouragement to students in need, and to advocate for organ donation. “Knowing that Abby’s life was going to end, for us, and for me, and for our family, that wasn’t okay,” Bacho said. “She was only nine and she had a big beautiful life to live. That was taken from her and it could’ve been prevented.”