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Florida could outlaw all forms of distracted driving

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla.  — Florida could outlaw drivers from putting on makeup, holding a cellphone, reading or performing other distracting activities under a bill unanimously approved by a Senate committee Wednesday.

The Senate Innovation, Industry and Technology Committee approved the measure after heart-wrenching testimony from parents whose children that have been killed in accidents caused by districted drivers.

Republican Sen. Wilton Simpson said distracted driving has become an epidemic in Florida, and not just involving cars hitting other cars.

“Bike riding, hiking, jogging — all of those things — we’ve had record numbers of deaths in this state by distracted driving,” Simpson said.

Right now, it is illegal to text and drive in Florida, but drivers can only be ticketed if they are first pulled over for another reason. Simpson’s bill would make distracted driving a primary offense, meaning law enforcement wouldn’t need another reason to ticket a driver. If enacted, Florida would ease into the law by creating a three-month period where law enforcement would only give warnings. After Dec. 1, police would be able to issue tickets.

Hands-free cellphone use would be allowed, and drivers would be able to check their phones as long as their cars aren’t moving, such as at a stop light or while idling in a parking lot.

Law enforcement officers would also have to record the race and ethnicity of ticketed drivers and an annual report would have to be given to the governor, House speaker and Senate president. Democratic Sen. Randolph Bracy asked for that provision to be included due to concerns that a distracted driving ban could be used for racial profiling.

Several parents who lost children in accidents urged the committee to approve the bill. Debbie Wanninkhof said her 25-year-old son, Patrick, died in an accident caused by a driver using a cellphone.

“We need to wake up to the danger of wireless communication device addicts,” she said. “Cellphone use … is an addiction for many. You hear the stimulus of a ping and you immediately grab the phone and you respond instantly. It happens over and over again, and just like a drug addiction, it can be deadly.”

The Senate bill has been unanimously approved in its first two of four committee stops. A similar House bill hasn’t been heard in committee yet, but House sponsor Rep. Jackie Toledo said House Speaker Jose Oliva has promised it will get a hearing.

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Musician Ric Steel gets patent for anti-texting app

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Singer Ric Steel explains the concept of his Saving A Life Texting (S.A.L.T.) app in this YouTube video. (Courtesy: RIC STEEL)

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Headline entertainer and musician Ric Steel said he has received a patent for his new app called S.A.L.T., which is the acronym for Save A Life Texting.

The app connects texting to the GPS on a mobile phone and intercepts texts when a vehicle is going above three miles an hour without disturbing the driver.

It immediately sends an automated text response that the person texted is driving and to call if there is an emergency or a prompt reply needed.

Once the driver is stopped, the message is safely displayed making sure that the driver still gets the message. There is also an adolescent version of the app that cannot be removed or unused without notifying the parent.

Over 2.5 million people in the U.S. are involved in road accidents each year, according to the website IceBike.com, which indicated that of these accidents, 1.6 million involve a cell phone, which is 64 percent of all the road accidents in the United States.

“The basic app will be free to the public. I believe that S.A.L.T. can save 10,000 lives this year alone in the United States. That hardly touches the number of people that will be injured as a result of texting and driving this year worldwide,” Steel said. “My goal right now is to connect with insurance companies, major telecoms and software management teams to incorporate S.A.L.T. into all devices on all platforms worldwide.

The .apk files and all of the source code is finished and in testing. Steel said once he can secure partnerships, the app is ready for release on all android phones, which accounts for 83 percent of the phones in the world. iOS devices will be next.

The S.A.L.T. app also has other benefits.

It has a 911 feature that alerts the police or fire department exactly where the user is even if the distressed person can’t. It also auto-texts anyone that the user has pre-chosen from their contact list and tells them that a 911 emergency has been declared and then will GPS them to where the S.A.L.T. user is for assistance.

The app also has an ER button that will show the closest open emergency rooms and then flashes the best one with the least traffic for their drive and the fewest patients waiting in line. S.A.L.T. helps to facilitate the quickest care possible.

Steel said he believes with the benefits of the app and its focus on safe driving that users will have access to additional car insurance savings when allowing their insurance provider to monitor the app.

“This savings effectively pays people to not text and drive,” Steel said. “Potentially, this is a win-win situation for all involved.”

, with its 911 feature and ER button, also has the potential to save lives when someone is not driving, too, Steel said.

For instance, if a person falls or is injured and requires assistance, they can use the app to summon help by using the 911 feature and auto-texting relatives or friends for assistance.

Steel is a headline entertainer, vocalist and instrumentalist for about eight months a year, but he said he spends the rest of his time inventing and promoting his humanitarian concepts and inventions. To date, he has more than 100 concepts, patents and inventions that are ready for production and almost all of his intellectual properties are inexpensive and based on improving the planet.

 

 

 

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TCA names its 2018 Driver of the Year honorees

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At the Truckload Carriers Association's annual convention, Ester Nemeth, joined by Bison Transport Director of Safety and Driver Development Garth Pitzel, reacts to hearing the announcement that she'd been named TCA's Company Driver of the Year.

LAS VEGAS — Professional sports leagues have their MVPs, Hollywood has its Oscars. If you’re a professional truck driver, one of the most prestigious marks of recognition is to be named a Truckload Carriers Association (TCA) Driver of the Year.

The grand finale of every TCA annual convention is the awards banquet, and nothing is awaited with more anticipation than the Driver of the Year presentation.

“We all know these drivers,” said Dan Doran, who emceed the awards ceremony as his final duty as TCA chairman, “the ones who not only drive safely, but give back to their communities and enhance the image of trucking. The professional truck drivers I’m referencing make us proud to be a part of this great industry.”

Finalists in the Driver of the Year Contests represent “the best of the best on our roads today,” Doran said.

Two drivers are named each year: Company Driver of the Year and Owner-Operator of the Year. Finalists for both awards complete a lengthy nomination form, documenting their safety record and work history. They must also submit essays about their driving background, community involvement, and about the importance of staying healthy while on the road.

Finalists must also submit reference letters from their company’s top executives and safety directors.

Along with that documentation, finalists for the Owner-Operator of the Year award must also submit a financial statement and business plan. Submissions for all finalists are reviewed by a four-member judging panel.

When it was all sorted out, Ester Nemeth was named the 2018 Company Driver of the Year.

A veteran driver of 26 years, the last 19 with Bison Transport, Nemeth has logged 3.75 million accident-free miles.

She is also an advocate of healthy living on the road, encouraging healthy habits in her fellow drivers.

Nemeth said she wanted to drive since she was a kid and she would see the trucks pass through her small town.

The profession has lived up to her expectations. The trucking community “is like its own little family, its own little community,” she said. “It’s a wonderful way of life.”

And it’s gotten even better over the years. Nemeth said when she started driving, she drove team, and people would often overlook her and interact with her male partner.

“But now they treat me like a driver, just like anybody else, which is good. I appreciate that.”

The award itself was a milestone in that direction. Nemeth was the first nominee for the award since 2005.

“This is such an incredible and humbling honor to be here this evening,” she said in accepting the award. “With all the exceptional drivers in this industry, to be recognized is unbelievable. My love of driving and my commitment to safety are what brought me here tonight.”

The past two years have been particularly rewarding, Nemeth said, since she was recruited in-house to be an in-cab trainer. “I have learned as much from my trainees as I hope they have learned from me.”

The other finalists for the 2018 Company Driver of the Year were Donald Lewis of Wilson Logistics and David McGowan of WEL Companies.

Danny Jewell, left, accompanied by James Schommer, president of Warren Transport, Inc., looks heavenward at hearing he’s TCA’s Owner-Operator Driver of the Year.

Danny Jewell, who last year passed the 50-year threshold as a professional truck driver, reached another career milestone as the 2018 Owner-Operator of the Year.

Jewell, 73, has driven his entire career with Warren Transport, logging more than 6 million accident-free miles. He was also recently named the Iowa Motor Truck Association’s Truck Master Driver of the Year.

Like Nemeth, Jewell said truck driving was a childhood dream, and when he became an owner-operator in 1972, that dream was fulfilled. “the rest is history,” he said.

He said that the last few years, he’s been trying to figure out how to get more young people today interested in trucking. “It’s a great job, there are so many opportunities out there,” he said.

Jewell had plenty of people to thank, But the only person who could lead his acceptance speech was Sharon, his wife of 55 years, who held up the home front all these years and gets the credit for most important achievements — five children, 20 grandchildren, and four (soon to be five) great-grandchildren.

The other 2018 Owner-Operator of the Year finalists were Robert Roth of Erb Transport and Kevin Kocmich of Diamond Transportation System.

Along with the honor of the title Driver of the Year, Nemeth and Jewell were also presented with checks for $25,000.

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Driver who aided woman after wrong-way crash named Highway Angel of the Year

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EpicVue CEO Lance Platt, left, and recording artist Lindsay Lawler present Brian Snell of Pottle’s Transportation with the Highway Angel of the Year award during the Truckload Carriers Association’s 81st annual convention. (The Trucker: KLINT LOWRY)

LAS VEGAS — For most people, there are maybe only a handful of instances in their lives that call for an act of heroism.

“We’d all like to believe that if the situation presented itself, each of us would be able to step up and offer assistance to others in their time of need,” Truckload Carriers Association Chairman Dan Doran said March 12 at the general session of the closing day of the 81st annual TCA convention.

With as much time as professional truck drivers spend out on the open road, they are more likely than most folks to come across fellow travelers who need help. And every year, there are several stories of drivers who step up to offer their assistance.

In 1997, TCA and corporate sponsor EpicVue created the Highway Angels program “to improve the public’s image of the trucking industry by highlighting positive stories of professional truck drivers who display exemplary acts of kindness, courtesy, and courage while on the job,” Doran said.

Highway Angels are recognized throughout the year. “EpicVue is honored to recognize these incredible professional truck drivers, who put themselves sometimes in great danger to help a fellow truck driver, a motorist, and even a small child who may be wandering alone in the dark,” said EpicVue CEO Lance Platt.

One of these drivers is then chosen for special recognition at the annual TCA convention as the Highway Angel of the Year. This year’s Highway Angel of the Year Brian Snell, a regional trainer with Bangor, Maine-based Pottle’s Transportation. Platt was joined by recording artist Lindsay Lawler in presenting Snell with the award.

Lawler, the official spokesperson for the Highway Angel program and whose song “Highway Angel” is a tribute to the spirit of the program and to the drivers who personify that spirit, said Snell “is passionate about what he does, humble, and an overall brilliant example of what this program aims to highlight.”

A brief video prior to the presentation described the early-morning rescue for which Snell was being honored. After the ceremony, he recalled the incident in his own words.

Snell was driving on I-495 in Massachusetts at about 2:15 a.m. on June 8, 2018, when he saw the headlights of a vehicle driving the wrong way up ahead before it hit something and spun out to a stop. Snell stopped his truck in the middle of the road, blocking oncoming traffic from the crashed car.

As other motorists stopped, Snell got out of his truck to assess the situation. The car’s front end was mangled, and the woman behind the wheel was unconscious.

Snell is no stranger to emergency situations. He joined the Marines in 1989, but an injury sustained in boot camp curtailed his military career. After his discharge in 1992, he spent nearly five years as a paramedic in Nashua, New Hampshire, near his hometown of Merrimack, before becoming a sheriff’s department rescue worker.

“I used to do a lot of high-angle rescue work,” Snell said. “It’s rope work. We were up on ledges, mountain work and all that.”

Even in his spare time, Snell has done “a ton of volunteering,” he said, including rescue work on New Hampshire’s Mount Washington. At 6,288 feet, Mount Washington is the highest peak in the Northeast and part of the Appalachian Trail. It is popular with hikers, cyclists and gliders, but weather conditions can turn treacherous quickly.

“And when the World Trade Center went down I wound up going to Ground Zero working search and rescue down there.”

Snell spent five days as a volunteer at Ground Zero “literally digging in the dirt and going through the pile itself,” he said. He was among the rescue workers who became casualties of the attack after the fact. Part of his diaphragm became paralyzed and he lost a lung due to the prolonged exposure to the particulate matter in the air.

“Obviously, after 911, law enforcement was out because of the disability with my lung,” Snell said.

Snell was already on his way to becoming a full-time professional truck driver. “My grandfather for years told me to get my truck license,” Snell said. “I was like, ‘I don’t want to be a truck driver.’” But turning an economic downturn he had taken his grandfather’s advice and had started what had been a gradual transition from emergency work into trucking.

In those early morning hours last June, Snell’s professional worlds came together when he came to the driver’s assistance.

“The car was on fire,” he said. “I put the flames out with the fire extinguisher. Then I started working on her to make sure she was conscious and breathing and all that.”

While he was doing that, he heard one of the other motorists who had stopped to help yelling some distance away that they “couldn’t get in.” That’s when Snell realized that another vehicle had been involved in the crash.

“I thought she’d just bounced off the guardrail,” Snell said, but she had collided head-on with another car. He went over to the second car and saw the driver, a 32-year-old man, was dead.

There was a dog inside the car, and Snell had to smash a window to get to it. As it happened, the first officer on the scene was a K-9 officer, so Snell left the dog in his care then he returned to the first car to help rescue workers extract the woman.

He said when Highway Angel organizers first tried to contact him about being an honoree, he didn’t return their phone calls. “I don’t do what I do to be recognized, you know what I mean?” he said. “And finally my company got involved and said, ‘You got to call back.’

Being named a Highway Angel was an honor, he said, and then when he heard he had been named Highway Angel of the Year, he was “ecstatic,” but he admitted he’s had mixed emotions because of the circumstances around the incident.

“It’s a very bittersweet award to accept,” Snell said. “I’m literally being honored for saving someone who killed somebody.” The woman, who was intoxicated at the time of the crash, has been charged with vehicular homicide.

“Hopefully, she changes her ways,” he said.

The Highway Angel of the Year was created to honor the person who best embodies the spirit of the Highway Angel program. Snell, 50, said he’s been doing rescue work, professionally and as a volunteer, since he was on the American Red Cross Disaster Team in high school.

He’s even delivered a baby along the roadside. Putting yourself out there for your fellow human beings is simply part of the values by which he was raised.

“My whole family is community driven,” he said. “The Lord has always told everybody he wants us to be the Good Samaritan, and I don’t pass that up. Anybody I can help, I try to do anything I can for them.”

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