They say time heals all wounds, but for me, it’s not so easy.
You see, just over a year ago my only child was killed just 26 days before her 18th birthday, and three months to the day before she would have graduated from Thompson High School. My sweet daughter Cici 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 approach the last few weeks of Alabama’s legislative session, I’m asking lawmakers to pass the hands-free bill and save lives.
House Bill 404 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.
Just last year, 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. Just a few weeks ago, both Arizona and Tennessee also recently passed hands-free laws to continue to make their roads safer.
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.
There is a billboard on I-65 northbound in Pelham near the Cahaba Valley Rd exit. It is a picture of my daughter in her cap and gown as well as a picture of her car after the crash. Both pictures were taken on the same day. The billboard says, “DISTRACTED DRIVING KILLS GO HANDS FREE ALABAMA!”
I’m calling on every Alabamian to help make sure that by the time the billboard comes down, the hands- free bill is made a law. I’m asking that Alabamians call their senators and representatives and ask them to vote “Yes” for Cici’s Law, 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.
Michelle Lunsford is a National Safety Council advocate working for the “Road to Zero” mission to eliminate roadway deaths over the next 30 years. She is a frequent speaker at schools, churches and trauma prevention programs.