Hands on the wheel: A new NC law to combat distracted driving would save lives

Hands on the wheel:  A new NC law to combat distracted driving would save lives

The accidents caused by distracted drivers mean higher insurance rates for all consumers due to costly auto repairs and medical expenses for innocent crash victims.

But this isn’t just a business issue for the members of Independent Insurance Agents of North Carolina, a trade association that represents independent insurance agencies across the state. Independent insurance agent’s customers are also friends and neighbors in their communities, so it’s personal when a policyholder is hurt or killed by a distracted driver.

That is why we have made getting a hands-free driving law passed by the NC General Assembly a top priority this year.

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We are proud that the independent insurance agents serving in the state Senate — Jim Burgin, Kevin Corbin, Todd Johnson and Vickie Sawyer — are sponsors of Senate Bill 20, the Hands Free NC Act. We applaud and support the work they are doing to get that legislation passed during the 2021 Session of the N.C. General Assembly.

Based on a hands-free driving law Georgia enacted in 2018, the proposal allows motorists to talk on the phone while driving (using Bluetooth speaker options), but prohibits holding the device in their hand or supporting it with their body.

Under SB 20, texting and emailing while driving remain outlawed, as they already are, with surfing the Internet, watching videos or playing games added to the prohibited list. “One touch” use of music or navigational apps is still permitted as long as the device is not held.

There are many forms of distracted driving — everything from daydreaming to dealing with unruly children. But a hands-free driving law addresses one very serious form of distraction that is common and conspicuous, and thus more easily enforced. The law will encourage the motoring public to engage in better behavior with all forms of distracted driving.

Distracted driving is the cause of one in five accidents on North Carolina roads and highways, according to the most recent annual crash statistics for our state, with 154 people killed and more than 23,000 people sent to the emergency room due to injuries from distracted-driving crashes.

During the 2019 Session of the General Assembly, a hands-free driving bill supported by both the N.C. Sheriffs’ Association and the N.C. Chiefs of Police Association passed the state House but stalled in the Senate.

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Independent Insurance Agents of North Carolina strongly supported enactment last session and is working once again this year to encourage the General Assembly to unite North Carolina with the 36 other states and jurisdictions that have made their roads and highways safer for everyone by enacting a hands-free driving law.

Aubie Knight, CIC, CRM, is the CEO of the Independent Insurance Agents of North Carolina (IIANC), a statewide membership organization of almost 950 independent insurance agencies employing 9,000 people in communities across the state.

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