Proposed Smyrna ordinance: Hands off the cell phone and on the steering wheel!

Smyrna city councilperson Derek Norton proposes distracted driving ordinance == photo by Haisten Willis

The City of Smyrna could become the first in the state of Georgia to adopt an ordinance prohibiting the use of cell phones or other mobile electronic devices while driving.

If adopted, the policy would go into effect as early as Jan. 1, 2018, carrying a maximum fine of $150. Derek Norton, the Smyrna councilman leading the charge in the effort, said the ordinance is needed in response to an alarming rise in traffic fatalities in Georgia.

“Even with greatly underreported fatal and serious injury collisions caused by distracted driving, from 2012 to 2015 Georgia has seen a 60 percent increase in the number of such incidents,” Norton said during Monday night’s council meeting, reading from the proposed ordinance. “From 2009 to 2015 the number of serious injuries from traffic accidents in Georgia increased 55 percent.”

Georgia passed a law in 2010 that bans texting while driving. Norton said the law is nearly impossible to enforce because police would have to conduct a search warrant to prove a driver was texting rather than doing some other activity on their phone.

The law also hasn’t curbed traffic fatalities. Per language in the ordinance, in 2009 Georgia had 1,292 traffic fatalities, compared to 1,561 fatalities in 2016.

Just five of Smyrna’s seven council members were present at the meeting. Mayor Max Bacon requested a vote on the measure be held when all members were present, which could happen as early as Dec. 18.

Several individuals and families spoke in favor of the measure, which would last for an initial period of two years if passed.

Kathy, Haily and Craig Clark spoke first during public comment. Craig Clark spoke about his daughter, Emily Clark, who was killed at age 20 by a distracted driver while a student at Georgia Southern University.

“This bill is near and dear to my heart,” said Clark, a 1983 Campbell High School graduate. “Nobody ever thinks bad things will happen to their family. It only takes a second for lives to change.”

Mandi Sorohan’s 18-year-old son, Caleb, died in 2009 while texting and driving. The Morgan County native also spoke in support of the measure.

“The holidays are coming up and it just doesn’t get easier,” she said. “There’s always that empty chair, and you’re always thinking about that loved one.”

Similar ordinances have been passed in 14 other states, but Smyrna would become the first city in Georgia to do so. Supporters hope a similar measure will one day be passed statewide.

Norton added that he stood on Atlanta Road a few weeks back and counted 500 drivers who rode by while staring at their phones. That’s the behavior he hopes the ordinance will help change.

“Ultimately, I think this ordinance will save lives,” Norton said.

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Haisten Willis

Haisten Willis is a freelance writer who lives in Smyrna with his wife, daughter and dog. He holds a master’s degree in journalism from California State University, Fresno, serves on the board of SPJ Georgia and even rides a bike when time allows.