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Bill Kirby Jr.: Distracted driving can be a killer, and financially costly

Texting on a cellphone while operating a motor vehicle is among many instances than can keep a motorist’s eyes off the roadway, and it can be deadly.


Mark Rice got me to thinking about an old friend who was killed years ago while in his stopped vehicle at an intersection in Guilford County.

A vehicle from behind plowed into my friend’s vehicle.

The driver, I am told, was texting on his cellphone.

“My perspective comes from two related angles,” says Rice, a local insurance executive with Callahan & Rice Insurance Group downtown. “One is the personal impact on our clients who have been injured by other drivers who were distracted while driving. In many cases, those drivers were texting.”

Texting while driving, needless to say, is dangerous. And texting while driving can cost you your life. Or the life of someone else.

There were 3,142 fatalities in 2020, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, that were the result of distracted driving.

“As a local independent insurance agent, I have been involved with our professional association to bring awareness regarding the significant issues of distracted driving and its impact on human life across our state,” Rice says. “This is a public safety issue that seems to be getting worse daily.”

Rice is working with and supporting folks including state Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey, state Sen. Jim Burgin of Harnett, Johnston and Lee counties, state Sen. Kevin Corbin of Cherokee, Clay, Graham, Haywood, Jackson, Macon and Swain counties and state Sen. Mike Woodard of Durham, Granville and Person counties, all who are co-sponsors of Senate Bill 20 for legislation to address distracted driving. And Joe Stewart, vice president for Governmental Affairs with the Independent Insurance Agents of N.C. association, is right there with them.

“Anything we can do,” Stewart says, “to make the roads safer.”

What the bill is about is hands-free while driving.

In other words, keep your hands on the steering wheel and keep that cellphone out of your hands when you are operating a motor vehicle. And absolutely no texting while driving.

“The bottom line is to keep the drivers’ eyes above the dashboard,” Stewart says. “We know it’s a significant challenge, but it has proven effective in other states. Georgia saw an 11% decrease. We’re trying to make the case to the legislature.”

Challenging would be something of an understatement when you consider what might constitute distracted driving, i.e. talking to passengers, dealing with children and pets, adjusting audio and climate controls, applying makeup, grooming, eating, using a GPS navigation device and texting while driving.

Even “daydreaming,” Stewart says.

Yes, indeed, challenging is the word.

All of us stop at the fast-food restaurant drive-thru for a burger and fries and a soft drink and keep on heading down the road to our destination. All of us find ourselves fiddling with the radio station and CD recordings. All of us find ourselves looking in the rear-view mirror to see if our hair is just right as the journey’s end is near.

That, suffice it to say, likely isn’t going to change. But texting on a cellphone is an issue. Sooner or later, it’s an accident waiting to happen. And in a number of instances a deadly accident in wait, too.

‘Consequences too great’

“Members of the state Highway Patrol join with partner law enforcement officers from across the state in saying the consequences are too great when it comes to making the unfortunate decision to driving distracted,” Col. Freddy Johnson Jr., commander of the N.C. Highway Patrol, said recently. “We have responded to these collisions and seen firsthand the life-altering impacts that a split-second decision has on people’s lives.”

Distracted motorists also can put law enforcement officers and first responders at risk, Johnson says, when they are on the scene of highway collisions.

“Many times, they are in the roadways clearing the accident, providing medical care or filing reports,” Johnson says. “Even working on the side of a road can be dangerous for them due to the actions of distracted drivers. Our state is fortunate to have the ‘Move Over Law’ in place that requires motorists to move one lane away from law enforcement or other emergency vehicles that are stopped on the side of the road.”

For those operating commercial vehicles, Johnson says, distracted driving can be all the more dangerous.

“This safety message is relevant to all roadway users, but I want to make a specific plea to those operating commercial motor vehicles,” he says. “The size and weight of these vehicles carries a great responsibility on the driver to remain focused because of the increased stopping distance needed. This is specifically vital in our state’s many work zones where roadway shoulders are reduced. Please stay alert and focus on the road while driving.”

The patrol commander’s words resonate with Rice.

“The physical and emotional impact is significant,” Rice says, “and long-lasting in many cases.”

There’s a financial issue to consider as well, Rice says.

“Personal auto insurance rates will trend up as accidents increase,” he says. “Most of the new safety features that have been added to vehicles are located in the front of the vehicle, and those features come at a cost. Of course, those are the first items that are damaged in an accident. It is not hard to see how quickly this will escalate since rates are a function of claims activity.”

Don’t get the idea these lawmakers are trying to tell you not to munch on a burger while driving.


“I would not support a bill that says you cannot eat in your car,” Burgin says. “The folks on cellphones are what we are after. People should still be able to use their maps, but what we don’t want is someone holding (a cellphone) in their hand or up to their ear while driving. The bill is not meant to be a punishment. My biggest concern is lowering the number of deaths and injuries.”

The last word to Johnson when it comes to distracted drivers.

“It’s simple,” Johnson says. “Distracted driving causes crashes that kill people, whether it’s texting, using a GPS or a cellphone. The bottom line is these crashes are totally preventable if drivers will focus on the road and what’s going on around them.”

Bill Kirby Jr. can be reached at billkirby49@gmail.com or 910- 624-1961.

Column, Bill Kirby Jr., distracted driving, cellphone, legislation