By Hannah Curran, Editor
TRUSSVILLE — A spokesperson with Hands-Free Alabama spoke with Trussville Tribune Publisher Scott Buttram and Tribune Digital Media’s Brannon Dawkins on Tribune Unscripted, Thursday, September 29.
Michelle Lunsford explained that Hands-Free Alabama is a group of victims’ families trying to pass a bill in Alabama where you cannot hold your phone or any electronic device in your hand while you are operating a vehicle. For the past four years, they have been trying to save lives with Hands-Free Alabama.
Lunsford lost her teenage daughter Camryn “CiCi” Callaway in a distracted driving accident in February 2018. CiCi, a senior at Thompson high school, was heading home from work, where she worked with my uncle and aunt.
“On her way home, she got on her phone and recorded a happy birthday message to a friend,” Lunsford said. “She did not see an 18 Wheeler that had stopped in front of her and ran right underneath it… She was 26 days away from her 18th birthday, three months to the very day of graduation.”
Lunsford explained that she wasn’t ever worried about Camryn when she first started driving.
“She was actually a good driver, 10 and 2; she would go the speed limit,” Lunsford said. “I wasn’t worried then; it was all the people around her driving that I was worried about. I started to worry when she got comfortable behind the wheel; she started allowing distractions.”
Lunsford said that when she saw all the students, CiCi’s friends, and their parents that came to the wake and funeral with fear in their eyes, that encouraged her to talk with the students.
“I really wanted to bring awareness and education on the dangers of distracted driving,” Lunsford said.
However, this isn’t a teen-driving problem; according to Lunsford, the blame also falls on the parents.
“The parents, the 30, 40, 50-year-olds, we’re the ones that are more guilty about it,” Lunsford said. “What kind of a role model are we being for our teens that are just starting to drive.”
Lunsford explained that there are manual, visual, and cognitive distractions. Manual if your hands are off the wheel, visual if your eyes are off the road, and cognitive if your mind is not on the task at hand, which is driving.
Buttram told Lunsford he couldn’t think of anything more devastating for any parent to go through than losing a child.
“What a testament that you decide to keep her memory alive by trying to save other people’s lives,” Buttram said.
This is not unique to Alabama; other states deal with the same thing, and some states have dealt with it. Lunsford said she believes 26 to 27 states passed a stronger version of a hands-free bill in their state.
“For example, Washington actually calls it a DUIE, Driving Under the Influence of Electronics; they are very, very serious about driving,” Lunsford said. “Georgia has one. Tennessee actually has one that’s pretty strong as well; it’s not just a cell phone in your hand, it’s eating, it’s anything in your hands that’s a distraction.”
Lunsford said their goal is to get a law passed where you can’t hold a phone or any electronic device in your hand while you’re driving, but drivers are still allowed to use Bluetooth.
“There are numerous Hands-Free devices you can get on Amazon for $20,” Lunsford said. “However, hands-free does not mean risk-free… Distractions come in many different ways. These kids we are losing, my heart is really torn; we are the ones that are more guilty. It’s my age group, but the 15 to 20-year-olds are the ones that we are losing every single day.”
Lunsford explained that the number one reason that 15 to 20-year-olds pass away is a motor vehicle accident.
She explained that it’s been difficult to get a bill passed, but there isn’t just one item she can pinpoint that makes it challenging.
“We have had a couple of the representatives basically say, ‘I’m not going to put my phone down, and I’m not going to ask my constituents as well’; they were very vocal about that,” Lunsford said. “It’s really a shame. I think a little bit of political issues was kind of going on as well… It has been a real struggle.”
Lunsford said they have to start over every year when the bill isn’t passed.
“It’s a brand new bill every single year, but now it’s a matter of finding a new representative, new senator to actually take this challenge on,” Lunsford said.
For more information, visit Hands-Free Alabama on Facebook.