Published Thursday, February 28, 2013
By Walter C. Jones
Morris News Service
ATLANTA – A freshman legislator who's also the former head of the State Patrol has sponsored a trio of bills related to safety that are already drawing attention.
One would require seat belts in passenger vans and small church buses. Another would pave the way for destroying dogs that attack people. But the most discussed so far is one that limits cruising in the left-hand lane when faster drivers want to pass.
As Commissioner of Public Safety, Rep. Bill Hitchens, R-Rincon, also served as colonel of the Georgia State Patrol oversaw traffic enforcement across the state.
"In my past life, I received a lot of complaints from the public," he said. "I would say I received an equal number of complaints from the public and the law-enforcement community that people get in that left lane and block traffic." He said he's seen it in 43 years of driving between Savannah and Atlanta in his career. Often, drivers in back begin tailgating, flashing lights and becoming aggressive. Although the aggressive drivers who are usually intent on speeding are in the wrong, he said his legislation, House Bill 459, aims to avoid problems.
"The whole thing as I see it is safety," he said.
When someone wants to pass him – say when he's cruising in the left lane to avoid uneven pavement in the right – he gladly gets out of their way.
The bill outlaws driving in the fast lane except to pass another vehicle or when road construction, weather or other circumstances require it. But, it's allowed when no one is directly behind wanting to pass.
If the House and Senate agree, it would become law should the governor sign it and take effect July 1.
HB 365 expands the number of vehicles requiring seat belts. Only buses capable of carrying more than 15 passengers would be exempt.
He said large vans are at risk of turning over, and the passengers are usually children riding to private schools, church or team outings.
"It's probably the most dangerous type vehicles," he said.
And HB 488 dealing with dogs who have attacked people is based on a situation in Savannah where a dog violently attacked a 5-year-old, Effingham County boy. The owners of the dog, Kno, voluntarily surrendered the animal after a court hearing determined it was a vicious dog.
A lawyer appointed to represent the dog has custody of Kno but has been unsuccessful in finding a new home for it. Hitchens' bill would allow the dog to be destroyed.
A law governing dangerous dogs contains provisions for animals that aren't surrendered but not in the case where the owner gives it up.
Hitchens said he's gotten more than his share of emails and phone calls for a rookie politician, mostly about the lane-hog bill. The majority have been supportive, but at least a couple object because they say it encourages speeding.