Sallie Sorohan is painfully aware of how dangerous texting while driving can be.
The Dahlonega woman’s grandson, Caleb Sorohan, 18, was killed in a head-on crash last month while sending a text message on his cell phone, she said.
The North Georgia College & State University freshman was driving during the afternoon on Dec. 16 near his hometown of Rutledge when his car drifted into the oncoming lane while he was texting. He died after his compact car collided with a truck hauling a horse trailer.
“The officer who investigated the accident told his father texting was really beginning to be (an) epidemic,” Sallie Sorohan said Wednesday. “They said they really wished there was some law against it.”
A few days after her grandson’s funeral, Sorohan asked her state representative, Amos Amerson, R-Dahlonega, to sponsor a bill that would make texting while driving illegal in Georgia, as it already is in 19 states. Amerson introduced the bill last week and said he hopes it will get a first reading on the state House floor soon and move on to the House public safety committee.
Bills addressing cell phone use have stalled in years past. A proposal to ban teenagers from using cell phones while driving didn’t make it out of the House of Representatives.
But with more texting, more crashes and more media attention being paid to the issue, Amerson said he believes the time is right.
“Now is as a good a time as we’re going to have,” he said.
Amerson’s bill would fine violators $300, which Sorohan believes is the right amount, she said.
“A $50 fine is not attention-getting enough,” Sorohan said.
Both Amerson and Sorohan compared the proposal to Georgia’s seat belt law, which initially met with resistance when it passed in the late 1980s.
“The seat belt law saved thousands of lives, and this would save lives, too,” Sorohan said. “It’s not going to stop (texting and driving) totally, but I think it will bring it to the attention of people. People need to be aware of the dangers. When you’re driving a 3,000-pound vehicle, you have to pay attention to what you’re doing.”
Amerson noted that drivers following the speed limit can travel 100 feet in a second.
“If they look down for three seconds to send a text, that’s 300 feet,” he said.
A recent Pew Research Center survey found that a quarter of teenagers ages 16 or 17 have texted while driving, and nearly half of all teenagers have been in a car when a driver was texting.
Hall County Sheriff’s Col. Jeff Strickland said the office has no data on crashes caused by texting, but would support the bill.
“Law enforcement would definitely be in favor of anything that prevents people from being distracted from driving,” Strickland said.
Sorohan said she will continue to encourage folks to contact their local legislators and ask them to support the bill. She is also willing to offer her testimony if needed.
“This is something I’m passionate about — this my crusade,” Sorohan said. “I see no reason for this not to pass.”