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Mom of 9-year-old hit, killed by distracted driver wants stricter laws

SB22-175 would require all drivers to be hands-free and use a Bluetooth device while behind the wheel.

FORT COLLINS, Colo. — Nine-year-old Erica Forney was riding her bike home from school right before Thanksgiving break in 2008. She was right around the corner from her home when she was hit by a distracted driver.

According to Erica's mother, Shelley Forney, the woman behind the wheel was seen on her cellphone and riffling through papers before the accident. She made a phone call right before she hit Erika, never braking until after she hit the girl because she claimed she never saw her.

"She was not speeding. She was actually going 25, just a typical driver, a typical kind of drive when she chose to make a phone call at that moment at 3:38 p.m.," Forney said.

That moment would forever change her life. She had initially hoped her daughter would walk away with a broken arm or leg, but when paramedics arrived on scene, her daughter was unconscious. She later learned from doctors that Erica had broken her brainstem after being thrown 15 feet off of her bike onto the road due to the impact.

"This crash was 100% preventable. That one phone call at 3:38 p.m. took my kid's life. My daughter should be living a full beautiful life," said Forney, who has watched her other two daughters grow up without their sister.

The preventable death of her daughter prompted Forney to become an advocate for safer driving and greater legislation surrounding it.

A bill that would create a hands-free driving rule is currently going through the Colorado legislature. Under the bill, anyone operating a vehicle would be required to use their cellphone through a Bluetooth device only.

The bill comes at a time when the Colorado Department of Transportation has seen a 50% increase in traffic deaths since 2011. Ninety percent of Colorado drivers self-report driving distracted, with 42 crashes per day due to distracted drivers.

If Colorado passes Senate Bill 22-175, it would join the District of Columbia and 25 other states banning hand-held cellphone use. Twelve of those states saw an average of 16% fewer fatal crashes within two years of passing similar laws. Most also reported lower insurance rates.

Due to concerns surrounding bias in policing, the law would also require data collection and annual reporting to combat specific minority groups from being targeted. It also adds a statewide public awareness campaign in advance of the requirement for hands-free driving to go into effect.

If caught on a phone behind the wheel, the bill would allow offenders to show proof of purchase of a hands-free device. If it is a first-time offense, the charge could be dismissed.

"Other people have kids just like me, and I don’t want them to lose their children like I lost mine," said Forney, who is advocating for the bill to be passed in the state legislature. "It’s not anything I wish to go through for anyone with this kind of loss, especially when it’s preventable."

The bill has already passed the Colorado Senate. It is expected to be heard in the House for the first reading next week.

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