WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - April is National Distracted Driving Awareness Month. Distracted driving is described as one of the “4 Ds” - drunk, drugged, drowsy or distracted.
According to AAA of the Carolinas, distracted driving caused an estimated 75 percent of accidents, and resulted in at least 123 fatalities in North Carolina in 2018.
Devon Bartholomew has experienced her fair share of accidents, and her sister is a survivor of a near-deadly drunk driving crash.
It was a Sunday afternoon and she was just 16-years-old. Bartholomew’s sister was leaving a mall in Pennsylvania with her boyfriend when a drunk driver hit the side of the car going 73 mph.
“She had a five percent chance of living," Bartholomew said. "She spent the next eight months in a coma and two years at a children’s hospital recovery.”
Today, Bartholomew’s sister lives with cognitive issues because of one person’s decision to get behind the wheel drunk, but she’s alive.
“She’s doing a heck of a lot better than they should they would," Bartholomew said. "She actually graduated college. She’s got two children. But it was a rough three years.”
Fast forward to several years later: the Bartholomew family is forced relive that nightmare.
Another driver was texting when he pulled out in front of Bartholomew at the intersection of Wrightsville Avenue and South College Road in Wilmington.
“Eight months of physical therapy and it took years for my spine to heal," Bartholomew explained. "It’s just because he was reading something in the front seat when he wasn’t supposed to. He was supposed to be paying attention to the road.”
Bartholomew has a message for those who don’t take distracted driving seriously:
“It doesn’t always have a happy ending. Pay attention to what you’re doing on the road. It’s that important. People die every day because of distracted driving. You hear it all the time, but it really does happen.”
To help address the distracted driving problem, North Carolina Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey is backing legislation that would ban handheld cell phone use while driving.
The “Hands-Free NC Act” would prohibit the hand-held use of a cell phone or other wireless devices. However the bill would permit drivers to make hands-free calls, and provides for additional exceptions, for example, drivers making emergency calls or for emergency officers and first responders using a phone in their official duty.
Violators would face fines of $100 for the first offense, a $150 fine and one insurance point for the second offense, and a $200 fine and two insurance points for subsequent offenses.
The proposal, if approved by the General Assembly and signed into law, would become effective on Jan. 1, 2020. Police officers would issue warning tickets during the first six-month to help bring awareness.