SHELBY COUNTY, Ala. - April begins Distracted Driving Awareness Month, and lawmakers are preparing to debate a bill aimed at preventing distracted driving related crashes.
Rep. Allen Farley (R-McCalla) said his hands-free cellphone bill will likely make it to the full House of Representatives as early as Tuesday this week. He said there is lots of support for it in the House, and Sen. Cam Ward (R-Alabaster) is prepared to carry it in the Senate.
The bill, which made it out of committee to be known as Cici's Law, would levy a fine and add points to driver licenses of anyone who is caught driving with a cellphone in hand. It is meant to promote a hands-free culture.
For Cici's mother, Michelle Lunsford, supporting the bill is a chance to keep others from experiencing what happened to her family when her daughter died on the road.
Lunsford advocated for its passage in committee meetings. She and her husband became activists against distracted driving soon after Cici died on February 22, 2018 on her way home from work. It happened on I-65 just past the Pelham Tank Farm exit.
Camryn "Cici" Callaway was a kid who Lunsford said might be just like yours.
"My daughter was smart, she was beautiful, she was artistic, she was talented, probably just like your child," she said. "She was 26 days away from her 18th birthday, 3 months to the day of graduation. She was a good driver."
Lunsford said she herself felt confident texting and driving, but it was always Cici who reminded her to put her phone away. She never imagined Cici's own life would be cut short that way.
"She was on her phone. She was recording a conversation through Snapchat, telling a friend Happy Birthday basically, is what the message was," she said. "That five seconds, she was looking down. When she looked up, we do know she slammed on her brakes. The police said she was going 40 miles per hour, which wasn't fast. But just enough time to go right underneath the 18 wheeler that was stopped in front of her."
Lunsford said she followed her daughter on the Life360 family tracker app. She saw her progress on the road and watched her as she drove home. But that's how she said she knew something was wrong.
That same day was the day Cici had taken graduation cap and gown photos.
"That was the last conversation I had with her, about her cap and gown pictures," Lunsford remembered.
Since the crash, Lunsford and Cici's father have taken it upon themselves to show drivers the cost of distracted driving. They have erected billboards and joined organizations to spread their message.
A Mother's Message
The Alabama Department of Transportation says a texting driver is 23 times more likely to get into a crash than a non-texting driver. In 2017, there were 40 certified fatalities associated with distracted driving in the state.
Lunsford said it's not worth the risk.
"There's this false perception that I'm safe on the road," she said, "when I have one hand on my phone and one hand on the wheel. I learned the hard way. It was my wakeup call. That's what I'm trying to do. If all it costs is $50 [in fines] for people to realize and wake up to the consequences, I just don't want them having to lose a loved one."
She wants you to think about what you're doing behind the wheel and remember to put the phone down when you're driving, regardless of whether this bill becomes law.
"People need to know about this. Distracted driving, you see it every single day," she said. "We just want people to be aware of the dangers."
Rep. Farley said Monday that only 16 states have the hands-free cellphone law on the books. He said his bill mirrors one in Georgia that has saved many lives already. He wants his bill to do the same in Alabama by reducing the amount of vehicle fatalities.
Farley is confident the bill will be passed by both chambers and signed into law.
Cici's mother said the bill's passage is only half the battle. She wants to spread the message of safety from her home to the rest of the United States, because distracted driving is a nationwide problem. She is an advocate for the National Safety Council.
"Painting beauty with the ashes, I see what God is doing," she said. "I just want to be there doing my part."
April might be Distracted Driving Awareness Month, but Lunsford will not stop advocating for safety.
"Lord willing, I'm not going anywhere," Lunsford stated. "I'm going to continue to bring awareness to the students."
But she knows it's not just the young people who need to hear this message.
"It's even the 30-40 year-olds. The parents, my generation," she said. "For us to realize, we have to be the role models."