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Tragedy drives move toward texting ban
Officials seek broader limits to cellphone use behind wheel
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While driving home from college for Christmas break two years ago, 18-year-old Caleb Sorohan took his eyes off the road for a second to check a text on his cellphone. That second cost him his life.

"It was determined that he was texting and driving, and that's ultimately what killed him," said the 18-year-old's grandmother, Sally Sorohan, of Dahlonega.

"Of course, we're still crushed and always will be, but we do not want other people to have to suffer the way we have - the heartache, the loss, the needless emotional turmoil," she added.

Since her grandson's death Dec. 16, 2009, Sorohan has advocated for legislation to ban drivers from texting while driving. Those efforts were successful when former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue signed legislation in 2010 banning texting while driving, as well as outlawing all cellphone use by drivers younger than 18.

But some believe that legislation isn't enough.

Now, the National Transportation Board is pushing states to impose an all out ban of cellphone use and other portable electronic devices while driving, except in emergencies. That would apply to both hands-free and hand-held phones.

Sorohan supports the idea.

Following the wreck, she worked with Rep. Amos Amerson, R-Dahlonega, to write a bill banning cellphone use while driving.

"When I get in the car, I turn off my cellphone and put it in the drink holder, and there it sits until I get home," Amerson said. "I just think it's downright dangerous and not courteous to those around them."

Amerson said he has seen firsthand the dangers texting and driving can bring.

"Many times I've been driving down (Ga.) 400 and people just wander out of their lanes," he said. "They're not really paying attention. They claim that they're watching the road while they're talking, but they don't."

The NTSB said texting and driving is the equivalent of driving with a 0.08 blood-alcohol level, the Georgia standard for driving under the influence.

The Office of Highway Safety has considered supporting further law banning cellphone use while driving. While legislation must be made by the Georgia General Assembly, a recommendation by the GOHS could carry significant weight.

"We know that distraction - whether it be from dialing the phone, texting and driving or just talking on the phone - is a problem," said Harris Blackwood, director of the Governor's Office of Highway Safety.

Enforcing the texting while driving ban, though, is a difficult task.

Drivers are finding ways to conceal their phone use, officials said.

"Before we had the texting and driving law, people were holding their cellphones at eye level and texting and driving," Blackwood said. "Now they're holding the cellphone down at seat level, which is causing them to glance off the road. That's one of the drawbacks of this thing."

Drivers also put their phone down as soon as they see a patrol car, said Sgt. Stephen Wilbanks with the Hall County Sheriff's Office, making it hard to charge the driver.

"Also, it's difficult to tell if somebody is simply scrolling through to find a number or if they're actually texting," he said.

Authorities can have a difficult time proving whether the driver was actually texting, Wilbanks said.

"There's a legal standard to it, but there's also a right and wrong standard to it," he said. "We don't want to charge somebody unless we know that violation is taking place."

Other charges are possible, though, such as failure to maintain lane or reckless driving.

However, authorities and lawmakers agree passing legislation banning the use of all cellphones and portable electronic devices while driving would allow for easier enforcement.

"Then the question would never have to enter law enforcement's mind ‘are they making a telephone call or are they texting," Wilbanks said.

Still, Blackwood said, the current law banning texting while driving has slowly begun to have an impact.

"Telling people how you're going to change their behavior is difficult," he said. "I think we're seeing some degree of impact with the texting law, but what they would do with an outright ban remains to be seen."