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Spare Parts: Daniel’s Law

By Ernie Copper

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Recently the Pennsylvania House of Representatives unanimously passed a bill (HB 853) known as Daniel’s Law. The legislation was introduced by Representative Jaret Gibbons in memory of Daniel Gallatin who was hit from behind and killed while riding his motorcycle on May 7, 2013. Dan was turning into his daughter’s driveway when he was hit from behind by a driver who was texting. Under current Pennsylvania Law that is illegal, but the maximum sentence for the offense was a $50 fine plus court costs and other related fees. The guilty driver did receive jail time for an additional charge of involuntary manslaughter. Currently no points are assigned to a non-commercial driver guilty of texting and driving in Pennsylvania. The new legislation calls for tougher penalties for distracted driving. For comparison purposes, I know plenty of Pennsylvania drivers including myself who have worked off points for speeding tickets.

I had met Dan just a few weeks before his tragic death at a local bike blessing where he was volunteering and I know several riders and friends in common who counted Dan as a friend. All of us honored his memory by riding in his funeral procession. Dan was many things before his life was cut short at 68: a godly man, husband, father, fire chief, Navy veteran and biker among them. He was the kind of man you’d want living next door to you. The funeral procession was also filled with first responders, firefighters and the New Castle Honor Guard representing much of what Dan stood for in life.

Though Daniel’s Law still needs to get through the state Senate and the governor, it has already drawn attention to the cause for distracted driving. ABATE has been instrumental in leading the call for change in Pennsylvania law regarding distracted driving since Daniel’s death. It does my heart good to see hometown people have a hand in changing state laws that may actually have a positive impact on drivers driving in our state.

At a time when many of us are frustrated with the government it’s easy to throw up your hands and walk away from the process. These people chose to roll up their collective shirt sleeves and go to work, learning the system, who to talk to, when to talk to them and how to make a difference. It’s been three long years since Daniel’s death and the law carrying his name has still not passed. But during that time ABATE of Pennsylvania, beginning with Lawrence County ABATE, Daniel’s hometown chapter, has made an impact.

As you might expect, the charge for reform has been led by Daniel’s daughter, Michelle Gallatin-Baughman, and her husband Jamie and Daniel’s widow Mary Lou. With support from Lawrence County ABATE President Big Bob Russell and his legislative coordinator and close friend to Daniel, Jim Connor, ABATE enlisted the help of State Representative Jared Gibbons. Representative Gibbons serves several counties in Pennsylvania District 10 including part of Dan Gallatin’s home county and mine, Lawrence.

HB 853, Daniel’s Law, is available for review in its entirety at www.legis.state.pa.us. Once you’re there just click the “General Assembly” tab and enter “HB 853” in the quick search.

It isn’t often that you get to observe a call to action from the ground floor, but the passion and support from motorcyclists and legislators in Lawrence County, Pennsylvania, has gained national attention. Recently, Daniel’s Law was even the subject of some discussion on a network television broadcast and has also gotten the attention of the AMA. As our society tries to come to grips with the changes and demands of being plugged in at all times through all manner of mobile devices we need to remember that lives are at stake and our actions have consequences that may not always be punishable by law but could have a devastating impact on our lives or the lives of people around us. It is time to change not only the penalties for serious distracted driving accidents, but to change our attitudes.

Until our cavalier attitude toward texting and driving changes, tangible change in tragic events like the one that took Daniel’s life will be slow in coming. Please join me in helping to change that attitude by saying something to any driver who holds your life in their hands by texting and driving. It is the absolute least we can do to honor a fallen brother and the family and friends he left behind.

Hopefully, Daniel’s Law will pass the Pennsylvania Senate and be signed into law by the governor this year. I also hope other states will support similar legislation to deter distracted driving and I hope all of us can learn a little something about helping to bring about change through our legislative process. One man really can make a difference and inspire others to make a difference too.

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