Opinion: Of distracted drivers and distracted lawmakers

On April 6, 2016, I spent a beautiful spring afternoon with my husband, John, and kissed him goodbye at 5:30 p.m. An hour later, I received a call informing me that my husband had been hit by a car.

Dr John Harsch was an avid cyclist and he had met his team at a local racetrack to train. He stopped to assist a cyclist who had fallen and resumed riding to catch up with his team. The driver who struck John was on his phone, never even saw him, never even hit his brakes. My beloved husband’s head went through his windshield. The driver was charged with vehicular homicide and spent 30 days in jail and received probation. That driver later rear-ended a car adjacent to a school bus in a school zone. It’s true.

The loss of John isn’t just about my loss, it’s about the thousands of patients he treated and the community he served. It’s about the thousands of missed opportunities For John to have healed, comforted and saved those he served. About John’s missed opportunities to see the graduations, weddings and babies being born to our 25 nieces and nephews. It’s about driving while distracted on Georgia’s roads.

The victimized families all around the state are hearing that House Bill 673, the Distracted Driver Bill, might not make it into law. There might not be enough support in the legislature. Really? I testified before a subcommittee recently, and as I was recounting this tragedy to them, a couple of the representatives at the far side didn’t even look up at me. One went into a long speech on how productive cell phones are, and seemed to boast that he is on his phone in the car virtually every mile he drives. Ironically, most of the members of this committee seemed distracted, barely listening to the story after story of victims. Even State Patrol officers and safety experts, having lined up, told the legislators they are urging this stronger law.

The current bill greatly increases points against repeat offenders. People like the driver who killed my husband, then almost took out a school bus. And this bill might not make it?

The addiction to the smartphone doesn’t stop when getting inside a vehicle. It is spiking deaths, injuries, wrecks, record insurance rates, and the bill itself with tougher penalties isn’t a cure. The bill allows for swiping your phone to answer and make calls, and it doesn’t account for mapping apps, which have their own huge related issues. The days of “pull over and look at a map” are gone. Drivers refocus on a tiny map while they are driving. They focus on a tiny text, roll their eyes while on a phone call, look down to dial, look down to text. And people are dying.

And we can’t get our legislators to care. I was there. They are distracted sitting behind their desks. So many other bills, dinners to attend, calling the spouse, politics as usual. They can return all those calls when they are on the road back to their district. They have a spouse to call. I don’t.

Mary Carol Harsch lives in Serenbe.

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