Put your phone down — a distracted driving crackdown is coming

Like many diligent public servants, Georgia state Representative Ed Setzler enjoys crowing about a nice, tidy highway project. In a Sept. 8 Facebook video, the Republican appeared to be doing just that from behind the wheel of a car. This was less than three months after the state overwhelmingly passed a ban on handheld phone use in cars — legislation that Setzler loudly opposed.

The optics weren’t good. The video (since removed) triggered a din of outrage, mostly from parents whose children were killed by distracted drivers. Setzler declined to discuss the video.

Legislation, publicity campaigns, steep penalties

As regulators, technology companies and even the most conscientious road warriors struggle with the universal urge to tap out a text or tally “likes” in slow-moving traffic, state and local policymakers are finally homing in on a strategy that works: deep and nuanced legislation, robust publicity campaigns and steep penalties — topped off with a hefty dose of grief for those already lost.

In Georgia, as with much of the U.S., traffic fatalities have spiked in recent years. Representative John Carson, who sponsored the Georgia legislation, whipped up enough votes with some simple math. Reducing the state’s traffic fatalities by 20% would save 260 lives a year, the Republican reasoned. “That’s a high-school class,” Carson said before a critical vote in March.

When Georgia Governor Nathan Deal, also a Republican, finally signed the bill into law July 1, he broke down and took a moment to gather himself. “This legislation is Georgia’s way of saying today is the day that we say ‘no more.’”

Posted 9:00 AM

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