Family supports Hands Free NC bill after son’s distracted driving death

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It was Thursday, June 12, 2008. School had let out two days before. Five days before that, 17-year-old Brian Garlock’s parents handed him the keys to his very first car; a light blue, 2000 Honda Civic. Exactly three weeks before that, Brian had obtained his driver’s license.

“We held Brian back from driving independently for a while,” said his mother, Tammy, who’d had concerns Brian wouldn’t stay focused on driving while behind the wheel. “It was a valid concern obviously.”

Tammy had talked to Brian about the dangers of texting while driving, which were emphasized because his older sister had crashed her car into a mailbox because she had been texting. But, Tammy says she had made phone calls while driving for years while Brian looked on.

“I was the example that told Brian that was OK,” she said.

Tammy and her husband John met for lunch when John got a call from one of Brian’s friend.

“Brian had been involved in a crash, he was unconscious and bleeding,” Tammy recalled.

Brian had been following that friend on the south side of Charlotte near the town limits of Pineville. Tammy and John immediately got in their car and headed that way.

“Your mind, just all of a sudden, doesn’t seem to work the way it normally does,” she said. “We literally couldn’t figure out how to get out of the parking lot.”

As they approached the scene, Tammy jumped out of the car and started running to the flashing lights. But, Brian had already been moved to a nearby hospital. He was then flown to a level-one trauma center. About two hours later, a doctor approached Tammy and John.

“He said every parent’s worst nightmare, ‘I’m very sorry, but your son, he didn’t make it,’” Tammy recollected.

About a week and a half later, Tammy and John were able to go deal with what was left of Brian’s car. Among the wreckage was Brian’s cellphone, which she brought home and plugged in. It still worked.

“They estimated the crash occurred at 11:47,” Tammy said, of those who investigated Brian’s crash.

In the phone, she discovered that Brian had placed a phone call to his girlfriend at 11:46.

“My belief is Brian looked down, found his girlfriend’s number, pressed the send button, and when he looked up he realized his friend had made the left, so he just went,” Tammy said.

Two pickup trucks collided with Brian’s car while traveling approximately 45-50 mph. It was a fatal distracted driving crash and Brian had not been texting.

“I’ve had folks ride past me in a marked patrol vehicle and they’re texting on their phone,” said Master Trooper Brandon Baker, of the North Carolina State Highway Patrol.

Baker says even with both hands on the wheel, telephone conversations can be distracting.

“Your eyes are on the road, but your mind is still tied to that conversation,” he said.

Baker added that although texting and driving is illegal in North Carolina, it’s not an easy law to enforce.

“It would honestly mimic someone that’s impaired,” he said, about how drivers perform while texting.

North Carolina House Majority Whip, Rep. Jon Hardister, calls it a public safety issue.

“First and foremost, we want to save lives,” Hardister said. “We want to make our roads safer.”

Hardister is a primary sponsor of House Bill 144, which is titled “Hands Free NC.”

“It’s not perfect. It’s a work in progress,” he said. “There’s a lot of questions that we’re trying to answer.”

Hardister says 18 states have passed laws saying drivers cannot hold and operate a cellphone or electronic device while behind the wheel. In those states, he adds, they have seen a 16 percent reduction in traffic fatalities.

“Using a cellphone while driving not only endangers you, but the people around you,” Hardister said.

If passed, the bill would create a $100 fine for the first offense, $150 for the second, $200 for the third and insurance points.

Hardister adds the bill could potentially lower insurance costs in the state.

The bill would include a one-year grace period where law enforcement would write warnings instead of tickets.

Garlock and her family started giving away bracelets in Brian’s memory in 2009. On them, you can find the date of his death. It is their hope that by sharing his story they can encourage someone to make the choice to ignore their cellphone while driving.

“That’s what it’s always been about for my family, is preventing another needless tragedy,” Tammy said.

The Hands Free NC bill has passed the House and is now in the Senate, where it’s passed its second reading.

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