Allen Poole is the director of the Georgia Governor’s Office of Highway Safety.
He is impressive.
This week, he told lawmakers that more needs to be done, at the state level, to save lives on Georgia roadways.
He should know.
Before coming to the office of highway safety, Poole spent 19 years patrolling Georgia highways as a state trooper. He investigated hundreds of traffic crashes. He knows why drivers wreck and how tragic a traffic accident can be.
It was surprising to learn that Georgia does not require backseat passengers to wear seat belts and that is why Poole was called to testify before a panel of state lawmakers.
He told the Senate Study Committee on Passenger Vehicle Seat Safety Belts the state is also losing out on federal dollars that could be used to help keep our roadways more safe because the state is not in full compliance with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration rules on seat belt use.
Georgia is one of the 20 states that do not enforce the use of rear seat belts, Poole said. That matters because 47 percent of motorists killed in car crashes were not wearing seat belts.
Georgia is ranked in the top five states nationally that have the highest number of car accidents.
Still, the director was candid in saying that just strengthening laws will not change bad habits.
As concerned as he is about the importance of seat belt use, Poole is spot on when he says that despite having one of the nation’s most stringent hands-free laws, Georgia drivers are still using their cellphones while on our roads and highways.
He talked about the importance of public education and he is right about that.
Just as important as public awareness, however, is enforcement. This is not a popular position, simply because no one likes receiving a ticket and paying a fine, but the state, cities and counties must get more aggressive when it comes to enforcing both existing seat belt laws and distracted driving laws.
If people want to put themselves at risk with risky behavior that is one thing, but driving on Interstate 75 at 85 miles per hour while texting is putting everyone around that car at risk.
It just needs to stop, and if drivers will not use common sense and put their phones down, then the state must intervene.
A law is only as good as its enforcement. Maybe a ticket or two with hefty fines will be enough to, at the very least, change the habit of the ticketed offenders before it is too late.
As with most committee meetings at the state level, the Senate Study Committee on Passenger Vehicle Seat Safety Belts was open to the general public and included candid conversations among lawmakers. The committee is considering important legislation and it is hopeful those talks result in larger conversations on the floor of the Senate and the House about keeping our roadways safe for everyone.
CNHI Deputy National Editor Jim Zachary is CNHI’s regional editor for its Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Florida and Texas newspapers and editor of the Valdosta Daily Times. He is the vice president of the Georgia First Amendment Foundation.