The Defenders: NC lawmakers trying to toughen texting and driving laws
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — North Carolina lawmakers are drafting new legislation that would require drivers to be hands-free on their cell phones.
It comes after our Defenders team revealed the legal obstacles which make it harder for police to prove someone is texting and driving.
State Senator Jeff Tarte is taking action. He told NBC Charlotte his mother was killed in a distracted driving crash.
“It’s personal for me,” Senator Tarte said.
It was the end of a Thanksgiving visit in 2002. Senator Tarte said his mother was driving back home to Illinois with another family member at the wheel.
“He was distracted, ran through a stop sign, and got T-boned by a car,” said Senator Tarte. “My mother was thrown out of the car and killed.”
Nearly two decades later, the problem has only gotten worse. The Defenders’ investigation uncovered legal obstacles in the way of cracking down on distracted driving. We asked Senator Tarte how he would characterize current North Carolina laws on texting and driving.
“Totally unenforceable,” Senator Tarte responded.
The Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Department acknowledged there are major challenges proving someone is texting and driving.
“I would actually need you to give me your phone, I can’t take the phone out of your hands and check to see if you’ve been texting,” said Lt. Brad Koch.
“It’s something we are going to call attention to in the next session,” said Senator Tarte.
Senator Tarte is drafting legislation that would require drivers to be hands-free on the phone.
“It will take the phone out of your hand, you won’t be able to do that anymore,” says Senator Tarte.
However, our Defenders investigation also revealed distracted driving is missing from North Carolina civil law. A lawsuit involving a city of Charlotte garbage truck driver highlighted the issue.
►RELATED: The Defenders: Police face major challenges in distracted driving cases
Police said Lavance Ginyard crashed into another vehicle causing a chain reaction crash in 2014. Ginyard said he no longer works for the city.
“I want to apologize,” Ginyard previously told NBC Charlotte.
Ginyard admitted he could have been more alert, but a lawyer for one of the people who was hurt took it a step further.
“The individual was distracted through use of a phone at the time,” said Ryan Valente, an attorney for Michael A. Demayo Law Firm.
However, Valente said unlike drunk driving, there is no civil punishment for distracted driving.
“Texting causes almost as many fatalities as drunk driving,” Valente previously told NBC Charlotte.
“It’s an absolute problem and it’s something we will look to address in this bill when we go forward,” said Senator Tarte.
Senator Tarte lost his seat in the state senate but says he’s working with several colleagues on the legislation. They’re hoping to have the new bill introduced early next year.