NC Troopers say distracted driving law isn't working

NC Texting and driving law too weak
Published: May. 21, 2014 at 3:29 AM EDT
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If your eyes are focused on the road in front of you, you may not even notice that a lot of people's aren't. Again and again we found drivers with a steering wheel in one hand and a cell phone in the other.

It's alarming to watch just how many people aren't watching where they're going. It's a horrible habit that can come with deadly consequences.

"She was a fantastic lady. She was different, my mother. She was old school," said Cleveland County Resident Keith Strickland.

Strickland says a cell phone is half the reason his mother is dead. On February 8, Lavon Ramsey, 75, walked out of her home to check on a neighbor next door. At the same time, Belinda Hudspeth was driving down the road high on prescription drugs. Police say she was also texting on her cell phone.

Hudspeth's car left the road and, in an instant, Ramsey's life was over.

"I'm so very sorry. I never meant to hurt anybody," Hudspeth said in court before a judge sentenced her to 14 years behind bars.

"Sorry is too late. You can't say I'm sorry it was an accident. This was not an accident," Strickland said.

Texting while driving is choice thousands of people make every day, while the law says texting and emailing while driving is illegal, North Carolina State Trooper John Burgin says what's not illegal is the bigger problem.

The distracted driving law was written in 2008, back when texting and e-mailing were just becoming popular on phones. Since then, technology has grown by leaps and bounds, but the law has stayed the same. Burgin says looking at Facebook, playing a game on your phone and even going through your music library while driving is not illegal.

Burgin and other troops are pushing for a new law where it doesn't matter what you're doing on your cell phone. If you're doing it while driving, you will get a ticket.

"If we can get that language changed to where it is hands free if that cell phone is in their hands, there's no more investigating to do. It's clear, cut and substantial at that point," he said.

Burgin says drivers tend to see his patrol car long before he sees their cell phone.

In 2013, approximately 1200 troopers across the state issued only 1,435 texting while driving citations. The problem is clear, and we went to lawmakers to track down a solution.

"What we plan to do is take the device out of people's hands," said State Senator Jeff Tarte from Mecklenburg County.

Tarte says he's been pushing for months to pass a hands free bill, but so far, there's nothing on the table.

"Why has it taken so long just to bring a substantial bill to the table to really make some changes," we asked Tarte.

"There's still a lot of interest to be able to communicate from a car. Whether that's talking on the phone what have you, and there's trying to deal with the confusion of are you playing music and are you on iTunes, or texting or Facebook. What are you actually doing on the device?," he said.

Tarte says he'll introduce hands free legislation in January. He's waiting because he says state rules don't allow lawmakers to bring new bills to the table during this year's spring session in Raleigh. Right now, Burgin and his colleagues are stuck with the law on the books.

To see distracted driving laws  in all 50 states,  click here.

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