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Ray Duckler: Proposed cell phone law a matter of common sense

  • Tressa Flanders embraces her son D.W. in his wheelchair after she testified alongside her husband, Donald (standing), at the Senate hearing on House Bill 1360 on Tuesday afternoon, April 1, 2014. The Flanders family vehicle was struck by Chad Belleville, a driver distracted by texting, in Pittsfield in 2010. The accident left D.W. Flanders with traumatic brain injury that has left him unable to walk.  <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    Tressa Flanders embraces her son D.W. in his wheelchair after she testified alongside her husband, Donald (standing), at the Senate hearing on House Bill 1360 on Tuesday afternoon, April 1, 2014. The Flanders family vehicle was struck by Chad Belleville, a driver distracted by texting, in Pittsfield in 2010. The accident left D.W. Flanders with traumatic brain injury that has left him unable to walk.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • Tressa Flanders testifies in support of House Bill 1360 during a Senate hearing on Tuesday afternoon, April 1, 2014. The Flanders family vehicle was struck by Chad Belleville, a driver distracted by texting, in Pittsfield in 2010. The accident left D.W. Flanders with traumatic brain injury that has left him unable to walk.  <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    Tressa Flanders testifies in support of House Bill 1360 during a Senate hearing on Tuesday afternoon, April 1, 2014. The Flanders family vehicle was struck by Chad Belleville, a driver distracted by texting, in Pittsfield in 2010. The accident left D.W. Flanders with traumatic brain injury that has left him unable to walk.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • Pam McKinney and her husband Bill walk away from the table following their emotional testimony in support of House Bill 1360, legislation banning hand-held devices while driving, on Tuesday afternoon, April 1, 2014. McKinney's father was struck by a distracted driver while he was checking his mailbox in Amherst. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    Pam McKinney and her husband Bill walk away from the table following their emotional testimony in support of House Bill 1360, legislation banning hand-held devices while driving, on Tuesday afternoon, April 1, 2014. McKinney's father was struck by a distracted driver while he was checking his mailbox in Amherst.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • Donald Flanders (center) sits with his nurses at the State House during the Senate hearing on HB1360, a bill banning hand held devices while driving, on Tuesday, April 1, 2014. The Flanders family vehicle was struck by Chad Belleville, a driver distracted by texting, in Pittsfield in 2010. The accident left Donald Flanders with traumatic brain injury that has left him unable to walk.  <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    Donald Flanders (center) sits with his nurses at the State House during the Senate hearing on HB1360, a bill banning hand held devices while driving, on Tuesday, April 1, 2014. The Flanders family vehicle was struck by Chad Belleville, a driver distracted by texting, in Pittsfield in 2010. The accident left Donald Flanders with traumatic brain injury that has left him unable to walk.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • Tressa Flanders embraces her son D.W. in his wheelchair after she testified alongside her husband, Donald (standing), at the Senate hearing on House Bill 1360 on Tuesday afternoon, April 1, 2014. The Flanders family vehicle was struck by Chad Belleville, a driver distracted by texting, in Pittsfield in 2010. The accident left D.W. Flanders with traumatic brain injury that has left him unable to walk.  <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
  • Tressa Flanders testifies in support of House Bill 1360 during a Senate hearing on Tuesday afternoon, April 1, 2014. The Flanders family vehicle was struck by Chad Belleville, a driver distracted by texting, in Pittsfield in 2010. The accident left D.W. Flanders with traumatic brain injury that has left him unable to walk.  <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
  • Pam McKinney and her husband Bill walk away from the table following their emotional testimony in support of House Bill 1360, legislation banning hand-held devices while driving, on Tuesday afternoon, April 1, 2014. McKinney's father was struck by a distracted driver while he was checking his mailbox in Amherst. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
  • Donald Flanders (center) sits with his nurses at the State House during the Senate hearing on HB1360, a bill banning hand held devices while driving, on Tuesday, April 1, 2014. The Flanders family vehicle was struck by Chad Belleville, a driver distracted by texting, in Pittsfield in 2010. The accident left Donald Flanders with traumatic brain injury that has left him unable to walk.  <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

If you want perspective on the issue of banning cell phone use while driving, listen to Donald Flanders, who spoke at a hearing yesterday, and whose son, D.W. Flanders, remains in a wheelchair after a distracted driver crashed into the family’s car four years ago.

“There’s a lot of opposition to this,” Flanders said. “But I don’t think they have had anything happen to them, so they don’t understand the concept.”

And that’s all you need to know why lawmakers should approve a bill that, in essence, demands you pull your car to the side of the road when chatting on the phone, texting, emailing, Googling, whatever.

Flanders’s wife, Tressa Flanders, called it simple “common sense.”

Common sense that the current statute, which allows you to text and also permits you to do anything else as long as you’ve got one hand on the wheel, is worthless.

Common sense that lives would be saved and accidents would be reduced if a bill that forbids the use of “any hand-held mobile electronic device” while driving became law.

Even the police are willing to abide by it.

Shouldn’t we, too?

The House has already passed the measure. The Senate hasn’t made up its mind yet, but here’s hoping yesterday’s debate, in front of a Senate panel, clears the way.

The Flanderses believe their nightmare could have been prevented if a tough, fair law had been in place.

On Dec. 23, 2010, Chad Belleville of Barnstead was reading a text message in Pittsfield when he plowed into the car driven by Donald Flanders, who was knocked unconscious.

Tressa needed 48 stitches to close a head wound. Her two daughters were imbedded with glass.

And D.W. suffered a brain injury. He hasn’t spoken since. He lives at the Belknap County Nursing Home in Laconia. He was at yesterday’s hearing, in his wheelchair, hanging out with his parents before they went inside Room 100 to state their case.

Deputy Merrimack County Attorney Catherine Ruffle knows what’s right. In 2012, she pushed for – and got – the maximum prison sentence, up to seven years, for Belleville.

Ruffle had a quick response after opponents claimed that talking on a cell phone or texting was no different from switching on your windshield wipers.

“The attention necessary to focus on a cell phone,” Ruffle told the panel, “is not the same as what’s needed to change a radio station or put on the heater.”

The common sense kept coming, from people such as Lt. Matt Shapiro of the state police, and Greenland police Chief Tara Laurent, and Rep. Candace Bouchard, a Democrat from Concord, and Rep. George Sykes, a Democrat from Lebanon, and Merrimack County Attorney Scott Murray.

They said pulling over to talk or text was obvious. They said using a Bluetooth, which this law would permit, made sense. They said passing this law would give the police the tools needed to help reduce horrible accidents.

“You can not rule out common sense,” explained Tressa. “There’s always time to pull over.”

Pam and Bill McKinney of Mont Vernon agreed. They spoke on behalf of Pam’s father, John Bachman, a business owner and engineer who was killed by an alleged texting driver last December as he stood in front of his home in Amherst, near his mailbox.

Bill fought tears, pausing and pausing some more before finally saying, “Our family was changed forever. The statistics show distracted driving causes accidents.”

The opponents stated their case, casting aside common sense with their own research and thoughts.

Republican representatives such as Jim Belanger of Hollis and Brian Chirichiello of Derry and Mark Warden of Manchester and Gary Daniels of Milford and Al Baldasaro of Londonderry said the new law would not be enforceable.

They said the existing law goes far enough. They said tuning the radio can pose the same danger as this new technology.

Chirichiello’s comments were most curious. He said neighbors like Massachusetts and Maine don’t have a law like the one being proposed, as though that meant something.

He also cited research. “Statistics show that crashes are not going down where hand-held devices were banned,” he said. “Cell phones are a small part of distracted driving.”

Chirichiello added that cell phones are a factor in 3 percent of crashes.

Could this be true? Is this possible?

I asked Alton police Chief Ryan Heath. “Statistics can be manipulated, the way you compile the data,” Heath said. “And statistics, numbers off the internet, are not real-life experiences. Officers in favor of the law were citing real-life experiences.”

The debate continued, point then counterpoint, statistics say this, then say that.

At one point, Daniels inquired about the law’s section that says holding a cell phone “in the immediate proximity of his or her ear” will mean someone is talking on the phone.

Daniels suggested the wording was too subjective.

“What does immediate proximity mean?” he asked.

Sen. Peggy Gilmour, a Democrat from Hollis and member of the Senate committee, had an answer.

Common sense, if you will.

“It’s one of those things,” she said, “where you’ll know it when you see it.”

(Ray Duckler can be reached at 369-3304 or rduckler@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @rayduckler.)

Related

N.H. Senate hears testimony on bill to ban cell phones while driving

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

New Hampshire could become the 13th state to make it illegal to use a hand-held cell phone while driving if the Senate passes a bill that’s already made it through the House. “This is the most-needed piece of highway safety legislation to come before you this year,” Commissioner of Safety Earl Sweeney told members of the Senate Transportation Committee yesterday. … 18

We didn’t have this law back in 2010 when Chad Belleville hit the Flanders however he was still found guilty of negligence. People, we don't need a law that specifies every little distraction...doesn't matter if your texting, putting on mascara, fishing for a donut or smacking your child in the backseat (as my parents used to do). If you cause an accident due to distraction, no matter what the reason, you will negligent.

Yes, this law should be passed.

I can remember back in the old days when an opinion piece on the front page was considered poor taste. Bill Loeb was mocked endlessly for his front-page editorials, but he kept plastering them up there, probably just to irritate his critics. It's not at all clear why the Monitor felt that Ray Duckler's opinion of a proposed law deserved the front page, but if the editors support that proposed law their reasons should be stated in the Forum section. And, keep Ray Duckler there too. I mean, it's just common sense.

How many times have driven behind someone driving erratically on the highway and then see them on the phone when you pass them? This law is a a good one.

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