WASHINGTON — Five months after a 5-month-old boy was killed as his mother pushed his stroller in a crosswalk in Landsdowne, Virginia’s House of Delegates is contemplating a new tack in the fight against distracted driving.
Tristan Schulz died Aug. 31 when his stroller was hit by a Jeep Cherokee on Coton Manor Drive. His mother, Mindy, was seriously injured but was later released from the hospital.
“A vehicle that was not necessarily paying attention accidentally struck the mother and the carriage, killing the 5-month-old baby instantly,” Del. Thomas (Tag) Greason, R-Loudoun County, told House members Monday.
John Miller IV, 45, of Leesburg, was indicted on a charge of felony involuntary manslaughter, as well as misdemeanor reckless driving. He was cited for failure to yield to pedestrians in a crosswalk, as well.
“Allegedly the driver was distracted by the phone that he was holding in his hand, as he pulled into the intersection and allegedly struck the mother and the baby,” Greason said.
While brainstorming with Loudoun County high schoolers, Greason realized traditional measures wouldn’t resonate with young people.
“We in Richmond can certainly try to address distracted driving by raising the penalties,” Greason said. “But you know what? High schoolers don’t really think about Class 4 or Class 5 misdemeanors or felonies. They don’t really think about $250 or $500 in fines.”
Greason and the young people envisioned an eye-catching way to grab an illegally multitasking driver’s attention — with an insult.
“If you pulled up behind a car that had a license plate that said, ‘Put your phone down, Dummy,’ ‘Stop texting, Stupid,’ ‘Pay attention, Idiot’ — these are the high school kids who are talking about what they think would be impactful,” Greason said.
Greason’s bill, which is moving through the House, would allow the Department of Motor Vehicles to issue special license plates for supporters of highway safety. A one-time fee of $10 would go toward raising awareness of distracted driving.
“Getting these high school kids involved in creating these slogans and license plates and artwork would actually create a buzz within the high schools around the Commonwealth, to get them to be more aware of how dangerous distracted driving actually is,” Greason said.
Greason did not mention Tristan Schulz or the man charged with killing him by name during his Monday remarks on the House floor.
Miller’s trial is scheduled to begin Oct. 10.
Contacted by WTOP, Miller’s attorney, Steven Webster, issued a statement: “I applaud Delegate Greason’s work with our young people on driving safety. I also appreciate his sensitivity to the importance of withholding judgment in a particular case until all the facts are presented to a jury.”
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