Gov. Ralph Northam signed a bill which prohibits people from holding a personal communications device such as a cellphone while driving, almost two years after Roxanne Gabel went to the State Capital to share her daughter’s story and advocate to pass a similar bill.
“It should have been a long time ago,” Roxanne said of the new law. “We’re not allowed to do other things while we are driving.”
“So when cellphones became a thing, why didn’t we do that immediately?” she added.
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Roxanne had lost her daughter, Lakin Ashlyn Gabel on November 27, 2017.
Lakin was driving to her job in Williamsburg and was on her cellphone, posting a selfie on Snapchat before she lost control of the vehicle and died on Route 33.
Her father, Tim Gabel and brother, Tag Gabel were on their way to work when they passed the crash site. After Lakin didn’t pick up her cellphone and her work said she never arrived, Tim turned the car around, begged the officer to read the license plate. When the officer started spelling Lakin’s middle name, Ashlyn, Tim fell to his knees.
Lakin was 21 years old and left behind Harrison, her 3-month-old son.
Roxanne and her niece, Tabitha Clark started a Facebook page to share Lakin’s story and to raise awareness about the dangers of driving and using social media.
While Virginia had previously banned reading emails or texts and texting while driving and holding a handheld device in a work zone, this new law goes a step further, banning drivers from holding a “handheld personal communications device” while driving.
But there are exceptions.
“The bill expands the exemptions to include handheld personal communications devices that are being held and used (a) as an amateur radio or a citizens band radio or (b) for official Department of Transportation or traffic incident management services,” according to the bill’s summary.
The new law started July 1 but won’t be enforced until Jan. 1, 2021.
Tag, now 21, has “been the biggest advocate” about not driving while distracted, even buying his friends dashboard phone holders for Christmas, Roxanne said.
“I think it’s a great idea,” he said of the bill. “I get tired of passing people who are on their phones, swerving into my lane. You can almost guarantee they are on their phones before you even see it.”
Tag doesn’t understand why some motorists hold their cellphone while driving, adding phone mounts are “so cheap, there is really no excuse not to have one.”
When Tag saw his boss on his phone, he decided to buy him a phone mount, too.
“I got him one for Christmas and he uses it every day,” Tag said. “It was five bucks.”
Lakin’s death affected the family in different ways. It was especially hard for Roxanne who was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and depression following her daughter’s death.
On Aug. 27, Roxanne was admitted into a 30 day, in-patient psychiatric facility in Lynchburg.
“I’ve had some real mental issues since the loss of my daughter,” she said. “A lot of people don’t understand –––my daughter and I were very close.”
Roxanne said the facility told her she is refusing to accept Lakin being gone because Roxanne expects her daughter to come home.
She takes comfort in the thought of another mother being saved by this bill and does not want people to know the “agony” and the “torture” she is going through.
“People don’t have a clue what it’s like to lose their kid and maybe if they did they would be harder on their kids on their cellphone,” she added.
The hairstylist has a message on her mirror: “Phones up, eyes down.”
“Some people take it seriously, other people think it’s not going to be my kid,” she said. “I didn’t think it was going to be my kid either.”
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