Local

You can still eat a ham biscuit behind the wheel. Distracted driving bill watered down.

Distracted driving PSA: ‘Famous Last Words’

In 2015, 3,477 people were killed, and 391,000 were injured in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted drivers. If you text and drive, your next message may be your last.
Up Next
In 2015, 3,477 people were killed, and 391,000 were injured in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted drivers. If you text and drive, your next message may be your last.

A proposed ban on the use of hand-held phones while driving emerged Friday as a much shorter bill that addressed a wider variety of behaviors that can distract a driver, including putting on makeup and eating or drinking.

The revised version was crafted at the urging of House Speaker Tim Moore, said Rep. Kevin Corbin, a Republican from the western end of the state and the bill’s primary sponsor. It would ban drivers from using their hands “to engage in distracted behavior that impairs or otherwise restricts the proper operation of the motor vehicle” and results in “careless, reckless, or heedless” driving.

The list of “distracted behaviors” includes using a hand-held mobile phone, which was the intent of the original Hands Free NC Act.

“I acknowledge that the version of House Bill 144 Hands Free is significantly different than the one originally introduced in February,” Corbin told members of the House Judiciary Committee on Friday morning. “This version comes from many weeks of discussions with the boss, the speaker, and his interest in addressing a broader array of unsafe driving distractions.”

The bill quickly met with skepticism from committee members, who described it as both unclear and overly broad. Rep. Larry Potts, a Republican from Lexington, worried in particular about the reference to eating and drinking.

“You’re going to shut down every drive-thru restaurant and fast food place in the state of North Carolina,” Potts said. “I got a real problem with not being able to have a cup of coffee in your console or a soft drink.”

One of the bill’s sponsors, Rep. John Torbett, replied that Potts shouldn’t be concerned. Torbett, a Republican from Gaston County, said the behaviors listed in the bill would only be illegal if they resulted in careless and reckless driving.

“This does not prohibit me from having my ham biscuit on the way in to work in the morning,” he said.

But some legislators noted that it’s already illegal to drive carelessly and recklessly and questioned the bill’s intent. Others noted that the bill’s definition of distracted behaviors included “use of an electronic device,” which they said could refer to something as simple as changing the dial on the car radio.

“I think you’ve made the bill worse, and I don’t see how this is even remotely enforceable,” said Rep. Dana Bumgardner, a Republican from Gaston County. “An electronic device could be a long list of things, and I think this bill needs more work.”

Corbin and other supporters of the bill acknowledged it wasn’t perfect and promised to try to make it better before it comes to the House floor.

But members of the Judiciary Committee decided not to wait. They stripped the bill of references to grooming and cosmetics and eating and drinking, whittling the list of distracted behaviors down to using a hand-held phone or an electric device. The bill now goes to the House Insurance Committee.

Related stories from Raleigh News & Observer

Richard Stradling covers transportation for The News & Observer. Planes, trains and automobiles, plus ferries, bicycles, scooters and just plain walking. Also, #census2020. He’s been a reporter or editor for 32 years, including the last 20 at The N&O. 919-829-4739, rstradling@newsobserver.com.
  Comments