Nonprofit, lawmakers push for stronger distracted driving law

    The push to change driving laws in North Carolina is underway with community members, lawmakers, AAA and more on board. (Photo credit: WLOS staff)

    The push to change driving laws in North Carolina is underway with community members, lawmakers, AAA and more on board.

    “The public is fed up with distracted driving. They see everyone on their phones. Even if they do it, too, they think everyone else can’t and they really want these laws. And now that we have representatives and senators saying that they want to take this up, this is a priority, that just means it’s time,” said Jennifer Smith, CEO of

    It’s why she’s organized four town halls across the state to inform people of the plan to change the law when it comes to distracted driving.

    “I lost my mom 10 years ago in a crash caused by a driver on a cell phone, and, since that day, I’ve worked connecting with other families, helping them get out their stories, share their message and, hopefully, get public policy changes in return,” she said.

    She’s far from alone.

    One of her supporters is Amos Johnson, whose daughter was killed in 2010 on Long Shoals Road when she looked away from the road to check an incoming text message.

    “Went left of center and hit a truck head on. And that’s something that I’m never going to forget. She was my only daughter. I miss her very much,” Johnson said.

    Smith’s organization has had success in a number of states, the most recent being Georgia, where, as of July, it is not only illegal to talk or text on your phone, you can’t even have it resting on your lap.

    Smith is hoping to have something similar passed here.

    It’s why she’s taking her campaign on the road, visiting four cities across North Carolina and getting the support of several state lawmakers.

    “The hope is that it will reduce distracted driving. We’ve seen it in every other state that has enacted this kind of legislation,” said Republican Sen. Jeff Tarte, who represents Mecklenburg County.

    “I think it’s an important step because it says there are ramifications to this, legal ramifications to this. You’re going to accrue points on your driver’s license. And the state takes it seriously, and you need to as well,” said Democratic Sen. Terry Van Duyn, who represents Buncombe County.

    Even AAA is backing the effort, after getting reports from NCDOT about the number of distracted driving crashes.

    “We see the numbers grow every week, and we’re just hoping next year we can see them going down,” said Hallie Dean, of AAA Carolinas.

    Smith said the plan is to have the bill rolled out in January.

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