• Lawmaker looks to update distracted-driving laws

    By: Liz Foster

    Updated:

    CHARLOTTE, N.C. - There are more crashes due to distracted driving in Mecklenburg County than anywhere else in the state and the dangerous habit is killing people.

    With more drivers on the road than ever, the threat is growing. North Carolina's distracted driving law hasn't changed in nearly 10 years but technology has.

    An advocate pushing for change has personally been affected by distracted driving. Tammy Garlock lost her 17-year-old son Brian in a crash in which he was driving while being distracted. Nearly 10 years later, it's still not easy for her to look at pictures of the wreck.

    "That empty space, that empty place in my heart is always there," Garlock said.

    9 Investigates: Distracted driving crashes skyrocket

    On June 12, 2008, Brian was driving when he used his cellphone to try to call his girlfriend. He pulled into traffic to turn and was T-boned on both sides.

    "We miss Brian every single day. His friends are getting married, starting families. You know, we won't get that," Garlock said.

    A year after Brian died, North Carolina lawmakers passed a bill to curb distracted driving. But the law only bans texting and emailing. Drivers can still use their phones for anything else. Troopers admit the law is outdated and say that, as written, it's hard to enforce.

    “I can't physically seize that phone on that spot. I'd have to have a warrant," said Trooper Ray Pierce, with the North Carolina Highway Patrol.

    There's also a big loophole in the current law, officials said. It doesn't apply to the use of apps so drivers using social media apps while behind the wheel are technically not in violation of the distracted driving law.

    An officer could still cite a driver for reckless driving but whether that would hold up in court would be a  judge's decision.

    State Sen. Jeff Tarte, R-Mecklenburg, has been trying for years to update the state's distracted driving law to allow only hands-free devices. He even named the bill after Brian Garlock and has introduced it in Raleigh multiple times, including just last year when it didn't even make it out of committee for House and Senate lawmakers to hear.

    "I'm a big believer in individual rights... Privacy rights and so forth should trump everything up to the point you put other people in danger,” Tarte told Channel 9.

    Two weeks ago, Georgia became the 16th state to ban drivers from holding a phone and allow only hands-free devices.

    In North Carolina, one in every five crashes is a result of distracted driving, according to state data. Experts believe the real number may be higher because drivers may not admit to being distracted.

    Tarte plans to introduce a hands-free bill again next year. Because so much new research on distracted driving is now available, he's confident it will pass this time.

    Eyewitness News anchor Liz Foster asked Tarte what he fears may happen if the bill doesn't pass the next time he introduces it.

    “There's nothing. Fear. It's absolute. We will lose lives. People will die needlessly," he said.

    Tammy Garlock agrees and has been working with lawmakers toward a purpose that keeps her from getting discouraged.

    "Saving lives," she said. "Preventing another family from experiencing a similar tragedy. You know, our lives didn't have to be this way."

    Now in North Carolina, it is illegal for drivers under age 18 to hold a phone at any time. In South Carolina, lawmakers have pushed for a hands-free law but so far, the bill has not even made it to a vote.

    Some insurance agents have said that, if all drivers have to use a hands-free device, and the number of crashes goes down, it could lead to cheaper car insurance premiums across the state.

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