Michelle Lunsford: Calling on Alabama legislators to pass a life-saving distracted driving bill

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They say time heals all wounds, but for me it’s not so easy. You see two years ago my only child was killed just twenty-six days before her eighteenth birthday, and three months to the day before she would have graduated from Thompson High School. My sweet daughter Camryn “Cici” Callaway was distracted by her cell phone while driving.  In the course of only a few short seconds she went from wishing a friend happy birthday to slamming her brakes as she slid underneath an 18-wheeler on I-65.

Yes, she made a mistake, like many of us do every day. However, if there was law in place that forced her to put her phone down, Cici might still be here today. As we are in the first few weeks of Alabama’s legislative session, I’m asking lawmakers to pass the hands-free bill and save lives.

Passing a bill specifically addressing distracted driving will make holding or touching a cell phone, or other wireless telecommunication devices, while driving illegal. This hands-free bill is designed to make our roads safer by requiring drivers to be more responsible behind the wheel. The hands-free legislation is not meant to take away your rights to be talking via your hands-free device; you can still make a one touch phone call and you can use GPS to help navigate. However, this law does prevent you from texting, watching YouTube, streaming Netflix, or looking at your Facebook feed while driving.

In 2018, we watched our neighbor, the state of Georgia, become the 16th state to adopt hands-free legislation and since the law went into effect July 1, they have already seen positive results. Traffic fatalities fell 3.4 percent in 2018, and we can do the same or even better in Alabama if we pass similar legislation. In 2019, Arizona, Tennessee, Maine, Massachusetts and Minnesota all passed hands-free laws geared towards reducing distracted driving caused by mobile device use. Just this past week, Virginia passed their hands-free bill, making them the 22nd state to proactively pass legislation that will make their roads safer. Indiana should pass theirs this week and become the 23rd state as well.

The law enforcement community has come forward to tell us that the current law banning distracted driving is simply not enforceable, because officers can’t determine if someone was texting while driving or simply dialing a phone number or using GPS. Statistics show teens are particularly at risk. They are a shocking four times more likely than older drivers to get into accidents caused by distracted driving. This new law would prohibit the use of a wireless communication device altogether, except to follow a route on a navigation system, as long as the address information was entered prior to operating the vehicle or in an emergency situation.

I’m calling on every Alabamian to help make sure that HB 74 (hands-free bill) is made a law during this legislative session. I’m asking that Alabamians call their Senators and Representatives and ask them to vote “YES” for HB74, for their own safety as well as their families’ safety while behind the wheel.

We must continue to teach our loved ones about the dangers behind distracted driving. However, it’s our lawmakers who have the power to make a real impact and keep the roads safe.

The ripple effects of one distraction have caused a lifetime of pain and grief, for me, my family, and my daughter’s friends. Cici was a wonderful daughter who made a very tragic mistake. Nothing will bring her back to me, but if this law can save other parents the pain of burying their own children, I owe it to her to continue to fight.

About the author: Michelle’s life changed forever on Feb. 22, 2018. Her only daughter, Camryn, was killed on her way home from work after she texted a friend and ran underneath the back of an 18-wheeler. She was just 26 days away from her 18th birthday and three months to the day of graduation.

Since that day, Michelle has been on a mission to bring awareness to the life-and-death consequences of distracted driving. She has spoken to schools, churches, radio stations, news reporters, trauma prevention programs, at a teen driving workshop and teen driver summits, and to anyone who is willing to listen.