It didn’t take long for us to reach the crash site.
Just 30 minutes into my ride along with the Georgia State Patrol, Post Commander Sgt. 1st Class Maurice Raines was dispatched out to a single-car accident on Towns Road. It wasn’t hard to miss. An SUV sat squarely in front of a large tree trunk, bumper smashed in, window shield shattered and all four airbags deployed inside the car. Fresh black tire treads covered the length of the two lane road where the driver had swerved out of her lane, into oncoming traffic, and then back across the road into the sturdy tree.
The cause? The driver dropped her cellphone and reached down to find it, most likely taking her eyes off the road for a few seconds.
“Distracted driving is just as dangerous as an impaired driver,” Raines said.
She and her passenger were fortunate. Both walked away from the wreck unscathed and no other vehicles were involved in the accident. The crash, it turns out, was the least of her worries.
After talking with the driver and two Troup County Sheriffs deputies also working the wreck, Raines learned that the woman was driving without insurance and her registration on the SUV had been suspended. She was cited for failure to maintain lane and no registration, then arrested for not having insurance, which is against the law in Georgia.
She was hauled off to jail in the back of a patrol car.
“Had I let her go on an appearance, she would have done it again,” Raines said.
The SUV was placed on the back of a tow truck with strict instructions from Raines not to be released back to the driver until proof of insurance is shown.
Unfortunately, scenes like the one on Towns Road are becoming more and more common for GSP troopers out of Post 2 in LaGrange. The law enforcement officers are responsible for patrolling the roadways in Troup and Harris counties, including 60 miles of interstate.
According to Raines, in 2013 the troopers worked 1,319 crashes and made more than 8,100 traffic stops; and they’ve seen it all, including people driving with their knees.
“They’re on a cellphone, fiddling with the radio, doing something inside a car, other than driving,” said Raines.
Some legislation has been passed to try and crack down on distracted drivers. In 2010, the state of Georgia banned motorists from texting while driving on roadways, which included people stopped at red lights.
Teens under the age of 18 can’t use their cellphones at all when behind the wheel. In four years, the number of tickets generated has been low, but it isn’t from lack of trying.
“It’s hard to detect texting while driving,” explained Raines. ” Officers can’t take your phone … without probable cause. But they can cite you for failure to maintain lane.”
As technology within cars becomes more enhanced, such as navigation systems, the likelihood of wrecks involving distracted drivers also increases. According to the Centers for Disease Control, every day in the United States nine people are killed and more than 1,000 people are hurt in crashes because of motorists not paying attention while on the road.
According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, nearly 6,000 people died in wrecks related to distracted driving in 2008. Georgia ranked third in the nation with number of people who admitted to texting while behind the wheel.
“People love to take risks,” said Raines. “We’ve become complacent. No one is driving defensively, everyone is reactive.”
Just as the motorist on Towns Road found out the hard way on Thursday. She saved her phone, but may have lost her privilege to drive on Georgia’s roadways for a long time to come.