Why I Support Passage of a Hands-Free Law for North Carolina

By: NC Rep. Kevin Corbin (R – Macon)

Rep. Kevin Corbin owns The Corbin Agency in Franklin, North Carolina, and Blue Ridge Insurance Group in Seneca, SC. Kevin’s wife, Beth, is active the management of the agencies. He is in his second term in the NC House representing the people of District 120, which includes Cherokee, Clay, Graham and Macon Counties.

As a life-long resident of Western North Carolina, and a sixth generation Macon County native (where I live today is a stone’s throw from where John and Nancy Corbin resided when they arrived here in 1830), I am genetically predisposed to be skeptical of any proposals that appear to me to be a governmental overreach, and I am distrustful of any public policy proposal that treads upon personal freedoms without any real public safety benefit.

My personal and political disposition is definitively conservative, coming pretty close to falling within the libertarian portion of the ideological spectrum.

I would not support, let alone sponsor, any highway safety legislation that I did not feel was based on clear, objective and compelling evidence proving it was absolutely necessary to effectively protect the public from a very real peril.

Given all that, know that I am very proud to be a primary sponsor of House Bill 144 Hands Free NC Act.

After prayerful consideration last year, and having had a number of conversations with the leadership of IIANC and fellow independent insurance agents from around the state, as well as with many folks from within the law enforcement community, highway safety advocacy organizations, and families who’ve experienced the grief and sorrow of losing a loved one in a distracted driving accident, I was convinced the time had come for our state legislature to take action to combat this unsafe driving behavior on North Carolina roads and highways.

I checked the data from NC DOT on distracted driving in our own state, and found it’s now the cause of 1-in-5 car crashes on North Carolina roads and highways – in 2017, that was 55,000 accidents that left more than 28,000 people injured and ending the lives of 152 people. And, these numbers have been trending upward in recent years.

While these are pretty compelling statistics, I wanted to be sure that legislation was truly needed. So, earlier this year I reached out to Representative John Carson of Georgia, the Republican state legislator who championed hands-free legislation in that state last year.

He told me he calls this issue is the drunk driving for our generation of legislators – it’s not alcohol and drugs at the root of this problem, but rather the rise and proliferation of smart phones and their all-too-easy access to the internet and social media that’s today’s driving impairment.

Rep. Carson made a strong case for their experience as a guide for us here in North Carolina – after only six months in effect, the Georgia hands-free law resulted in an 11% decrease in the number of auto accidents in that state; he pointed out that of the 16 states that have one with some form of a hands-free law, all have experienced a decrease in accidents, injuries and fatalities on their roads.

Given all this, I was convinced – House Bill 144 Hands Free NC Act was introduced on February 21 with forty-six sponsors, a balanced mix of Democrats and Republicans.

The bill simply prohibits a person from holding a phone in their hand, or supporting it with their body, while driving a vehicle. We know there are many forms of distracted driving (like eating, or dealing with rambunctious children in the car) but with this legislation we go at the one form of it – having the phone in your hand – that can be dealt with in a practical, enforceable way.

Our goal with House Bill 144 is to change behaviors. The bill gives motorists one ‘do over,’ with the first offense resulting in just a $100 fine – it’s only if a person has a second offense within three years that they get an insurance point. We wanted to create enough of an economic disincentive that folks will self-regulate and not engage in this dangerous driving behavior at all, much in the same way our tougher drunk driving laws and the associated economic impact from repeat offenses have worked to discourage that behavior.

The goal of the Hands Free NC Act is not to have hundreds of tickets written, it’s to save hundreds of lives by encouraging folks to make the right choice and drive hands-free.

And, the bill also makes the effective date for our hands-free law January 1, 2020, with only warning tickets written for the first six months – plenty of time to educate North Carolina’s motoring public about the new law before any financial penalties are imposed.

At our kick-off press conference on February 27 at the Legislative Building, the bill sponsors were joined by a number of families who have lost a loved one in a distracted driving accident, representatives of law enforcement, the President of the AAA Carolina’s Traffic Safety Foundation, and Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey, who offered his full support for House Bill 144.

Also on hand at the press conference were IIANC Board Chair Mark Rice, Vice Chair Steve Chalk, National Director Bobby Salmon, and Governmental Affairs Committee member Deirdre Rushin, a strong showing of IIANC’s support for our hands-free legislation.

As of now, House Bill 144 has passed out of the House Transportation Committee, is waiting to be heard by the House Judiciary Committee, followed by the Insurance Committee, Finance Committee, and the Rules Committee before it goes to the full House for a vote.

April is Distracted Driving Awareness Month, so I can think of no better time than now for the NC General Assembly to get to work on House Bill 144 and get it passed out of both the House and Senate, and on to the Governor to be signed into law. As an IIANC member, I am proud of all the support my association has given this legislation already, and I know I can count on my fellow independent insurance agents all across the state to contact their elected legislators going forward, to encourage them to support House Bill 144 and make North Carolina Hands Free!

Click HERE for a list of all the members of the House Judiciary Committee. You are encouraged to reach out to each with a call or e-mail – thank the sponsors of HB 144 for their support of a hands-free law in North Carolina, and ask the other members to vote YES on House Bill 144 Hands Free NC Act.

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