Mandi Sorohan said she wasn’t invited to the ceremony when then-Gov. Sonny Perdue signed the distracted-driving law named for her son in 2010. She wasn’t even sure the governor would sign the law until he did it.
But last month Sorohan was there when Gov. Nathan Deal signed a tougher law that will effectively replace Georgia’s existing texting ban – formally known as the “Caleb Sorohan Act for Saving Lives by Preventing Texting While Driving.”
Sorohan lobbied for both bills. And though she said the new Hands-Free Georgia Act is an improvement, she’s thinks it could be better. And she’s not done fighting the scourge of distracted driving on Georgia roads.
“At some point, the law will get to where we need to be,” she said.
VIDEO: More on distracted driving
Sorohan’s career as a safety advocate began in December 2009, when 18-year-old Caleb died just a few miles from their Morgan County home. He was texting while driving and struck an oncoming SUV.
“We knew what happened from the police,” Sorohan recalled. “They found his phone. For the six minutes before the crash, he was texting back and forth with a friend.”
Not long after, the General Assembly took up a proposed ban on texting while driving. Sorohan and her daughter Alex, along with some of Alex’s friends, lobbied for the bill – an effort to salvage something positive from the tragedy of Caleb’s death.
They encountered resistance from lawmakers concerned about criminalizing the act of looking at a phone screen while driving. But Perdue ultimately signed the bill – known as “Caleb’s Law,” for short. It prohibited motorists from texting, surfing the internet or otherwise using wireless communication devices while driving. Talking on the phone was still permitted.
Sorohan was happy, but not satisfied. She wanted a stricter law.
“I knew that’s all we could get passed at the time,” she said. “But I did not think this many years would go by before something else got passed.”
Police say the texting ban is ineffective and hard to enforce. They say it’s hard to tell whether someone is texting or dialing a phone number, which is permitted under the law.
As smart phones proliferated, Georgia traffic fatalities spiked in recent years. So when a state House of Representatives committee recommended new legislation, Sorohan and others who had lost loved ones lobbied lawmakers to pass it.
Among other things, the Hands-Free Georgia Act prohibits motorists from holding their phones while driving. Sorohan said it’s “definitely a big step.”
But she thinks the fines - $50 for a first offense – are too low. And she worries that teenagers – who previously could not use wireless devices at all while driving – now will be able to use them, as long as they’re hands-free.
Ultimately, Sorohan doesn’t think we should be talking on the phone while driving. The House committee determined a flat-out ban on using mobile devices use while driving would not be politically viable. But Sorohan isn’t done lobbying for fewer driver distractions.
“Unfortunately, it has to be little steps at a time,” she said. “I understand that now. It was frustrating the first time around.”
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