For the Hurd family in Abingdon, the new cellphone law that will go into effect on Oct. 1 is a personal victory after a terrible tragedy.
Russell Hurd’s daughter, Heather, was killed by a distracted driver on Jan. 3, 2008. Heather and her fiancé were on their way to meet her parents for a meeting with a wedding planner in Disney World. She was 27.
“We went from planning a wedding to planning a funeral in a matter of an hour,” Hurd said.
The enactment of the law on Oct. 1, which makes using a handheld cellphone while driving a primary offense, is part of a process Hurd and his family pursued for more than five years. He said he began the fight to ban using cellphones while driving shortly after Heather’s death.
Hurd said exactly two months after Heather was killed—in March 2008—he testified in Annapolis for a bill that would ban texting while driving. It didn’t pass at that time, but he and his wife knew they would keep fighting.
“We walked out of there that day knowing we had to get something done to change the laws here in Maryland,” he said.
After months of emails, letter writing and petition signing, the law to ban texting while driving in a moving car was passed in 2009. Hurd said Gov. Martin O’Malley signed the bill into law, and gave his family the pen.
Now that talking on a hand-held cellphone is also being banned, Hurd said his family feels some relief, but knows they have a long way to go when it comes to changing the culture of talking on a cellphone while driving. But for him, it’s simple.
“People can be saved just by not picking up that phone in the car,” Hurd said. “We are a family that is forever changed, and will never be the same for something as simple as a text message. And when you think of that—that’s sickening.”
In an effort to lead the fight in changing the culture of cellphone use while driving, the Hurd family will host the 5th Annual Heather L. Hurd 5K Run/1 Mile Fun Walk at Harford Community College (HCC) on Nov. 9. In addition to a run, the event also serves as a way to spread awareness on driver safety.
The 5K will have simulators for motorcycle safety, a drunk driving simulator and a seat belt convincer. All money raised during the 5K goes to book scholarships at HCC, where Heather was a student.
Hurd said the way of thinking when it comes to driving and cellphone use is something he hopes will change over time—much like seat belt use did when that law was enacted.
As a father who lost his only daughter that culture change can’t come soon enough.
“You have someone that you love in your life with all your heart —that’s your Heather,” Hurd said. “And they can be taken away for something as ridiculous as a cellphone or a text message. It needs to change. We need to change the culture.”