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Bill introduces limiting texting, cell phone use while driving

POSTED: January 20, 2010 4:00 a.m.

Last week at the Capitol was not what we usually expected at the start of a session.

  

First, we elected a new Speaker of the House —— David Ralston from Ellijay — a new Speaker Pro Tem, and several others, which caused shifts in committee assignments. Second, Gov. Sonny Perdue gave his final State of the State address.

  

The State of the State address was unusual in that the governor did not talk about the budgets. Most of Gov. Perdue’s family was in attendance when he told Mary that he loves her and appreciates all she has done in supporting him and the people of Georgia. 

  

Perdue then told the audience that before he came to the Capitol, he had gotten his family together and explained that they were his team. He hoped that they would not do anything in school that would embarrass him in Atlanta. He also hoped that he would not do anything in Atlanta that would embarrass them in school.

  

In Gov. Perdue’s first State of the State message, he challenged the General Assembly to remember that the “main thing is to keep doing the main thing.”

  

The main thing is to do what is right for the people of Georgia. In 2003 we were in the middle of another budget crunch because of revenue shortfalls, and Perdue had to immediately cut the FY 2003 Budget. 

  

We will be working on the FY 2010 Amended Budget and the FY 2011 General Budget for the next two months. We have already been told to cut the Amended Budget by $1 billion. I can’t help but admire a governor who balances the budget in the face of population explosions and growing need for services. 

  

I introduced my first piece of legislation for the 2010 Session last Thursday.  This bill would ban sending and receiving text messages while driving. My good friends Larry and Sallie Sorohan lost their grandson Caleb in a car accident during the holidays. Caleb, a freshman cadet at North Georgia College & State University, was killed while texting as he drove home.

  

Sallie asked me to introduce this piece of legislation, and she has volunteered to help me raise the awareness needed to get the bill passed.

  

Last October, a poll said that 97 percent of Americans believe that text messaging while driving should be illegal. Thanks to Sallie’s urging, we have taken the first step.

  

My second piece of legislation would limit the use of cell phones while driving to emergency situations. If any of you have driven down Ga. 400 in the morning, you have seen people driving the speed limit and talking on cell phones. When you see someone talking, you must kick in that extra gear of defensive driving. 

  

Cell phone users are not even aware that they are dangerous to others. They change speeds for no apparent reason, wander into other lanes, and generally lose awareness of what is happening around them.

  

The risk of an accident while using a “hands free” phone is less than texting or use of a handheld phone, but any use creates more danger than not using one. 

Six states prohibit all drivers from talking on handheld phones while driving. 

  

Twenty-one states ban all cell phone use by novice drivers, and 17 states prohibit school bus drivers from all cell phone use while passengers are present.

  

Following my speech on the floor of the House, I was interviewed by news reporters. Some of you have seen the broadcasts and e-mailed me telling of your support. Thank you. This is an important issue for us, so there will be more TV coverage.

  

Mitchell Fillhaber, vice president for marketing and managed care at The Shepherd Center, contacted me on Friday to offer his help. Shepherd Center is the country’s leading specialty hospital for patients with brain and spinal cord injuries, some of whom have been injured as the result of distracted driving from texting and cell phone use. Some of those patients are willing to testify on behalf of our bill.

  

I will be at the Wagon Wheel Restaurant in Dahlonega for Saturday morning breakfast with constituents at 8 a.m. on Jan. 23 and 30.

  

I will be at Ryan’s Steakhouse (Hwy. 53 and Ga. 400) in Dawson County for Saturday morning breakfast at 8:30 a.m. on Feb. 6. 

  

As we get deeper into the session, I will let you know the rest of the Saturday breakfast schedule.

   

Amos Amerson can be reached at 401 State Capitol, Atlanta, GA 30334; (404) 657-8534; fax (404) 463-2044; e-mail amos.amerson@house.ga.gov. Or, contact Gerald Lewy at (706) 344-7788.

 

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