Allen Peake hopes to deliver a clear message to drivers on Georgia’s roads.
Peake, a state representative from Macon, has been a key supporter of two pieces of legislation that become law today: House Bill 23, which bans all 16- and 17-year-old drivers from using any electronic device while driving, except in the case of an emergency; and Senate Bill 360, which bans texting for all Georgia drivers.
Peake, R-Macon, said the Senate bill, also known as the Caleb Sorohan Act, was named for a 19-year-old driver who was involved in a car accident because he was texting. He later died. Sorohan’s family pushed the state to come up with a bill banning texting while driving.
“It’s a good day for Georgia drivers,” Peake said Wednesday. “This is a good piece of legislation that will save lives.”
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Peake, along with state Reps. Tony Sellier, R-Fort Valley, and Bubber Epps, D-Dry Branch, gathered Wednesday morning at Central Georgia Technical College to get the word out.
The news conference was arranged by AT&T and included several area youth organizations, including the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, D.A.R.E, Big Brothers & Big Sisters and the Mentors Project.
Terry Smith, regional director of AT&T, said it’s important to target young people with the message of safe driving. That’s the basis of AT&T’s program, “TXTNG & DRIVING — It can wait.”
“AT&T launched this on a national level last year,” he said. “Text messaging has increased tenfold in the last three years. Texting behind the wheel has become common.”
Smith said a study conducted by Virginia Tech concluded that drivers are 23 times more likely to be involved in a car accident if they are texting.
Drivers found guilty of violating the laws related to texting or talking while driving face a $150 fine and a point added to their driver’s licenses.
In addition, a third traffic safety law — removing the seat belt exemption for pickup drivers — goes into effect today.
Georgia was the last state in the country to end the pickup exemption. The Georgia State Patrol says about 20 percent of fatal vehicle accidents occur in pickup trucks statewide each year, and that in those circumstances, 75 percent of the time people are not wearing seat belts.
Bibb County Sheriff Jerry Modena and Macon Deputy Police Chief Mike Carswell said they expect the roads to become much safer now that the texting and seat belt laws are in effect.
“What (Peake) did from a law enforcement standpoint is very necessary,” Modena said. “There is a different disconnect that takes your attention off the road (while texting). This will save a lot of lives.”
Carswell, who has worked traffic accidents when he was a patrolman, said one of his most difficult duties was talking to family members about someone who died during in an accident.
“Teens and adults must give their full attention to driving,” he said. “This is very important. It comes back to personal responsibility. I think it’s a serious problem. ... I think (the new laws) are a start.”
Modena and Carswell said they didn’t have figures available on the number of vehicle accidents related to texting or cell phones in Bibb County.
Travis Jones, 17, a rising senior at Westside High School, said he texts a lot, but not while driving. However, he said some of his friends and classmates do. He said he didn’t know how many of them will change their habits because of the new law, but he thinks it’s a good idea.
“I think it will save a lot of lives,” said Jones, part of the D.A.R.E. group attending Wednesday’s news conference.
Peake said he used to text while driving until a motorist who passed him on Interstate 16 sent him an e-mail, telling him he was setting a bad example for other Georgians.
“He was right,” Peake told the crowd.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.
To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.