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Richmond Hosts VA’s First Distracted Driving Summit - NBC29 WVIR Charlottesville, VA News, Sports and Weather

Richmond Hosts VA’s First Distracted Driving Summit

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More than a year after her husband was killed by a distracted driver on Route 29, Patty Perutelli says she will stop at nothing to make Virginia's roads safer. Perutelli and other activists were in Richmond Thursday for the first Virginia Distracted Driving Summit, organized by the nonprofit DRIVE SMART Virginia.

Perutelli and others say the state is on the right track; the General Assembly enacted tougher texting while driving laws this year, but many say more needs to be done to prevent more tragedy.

"People need to be held accountable for their actions - and they're not. They're basically letting people walk away with murder," Perutelli said.

For 17 months, Perutelli has been living a nightmare. Her life changed in an instant in April 2012, when her husband Fred was hit and killed by a distracted driver.

"Nobody should have to go through this, nobody should have to get that phone call," she said. "He was a good man of God; he had just been ordained as a deacon in January before he was killed in April. It's tough, but that's why I have to talk, that's why I have to speak. People have to put faces with these accidents," Perutelli said.

Perutelli isn't alone. She joins the ranks of others who know firsthand the dangers of distracted driving.

State Delegate Ben Cline helped pass a new law this year that strengthened the penalties against texting while driving. "It's an inherently dangerous act," he said. "It doesn't just put you at risk; it puts everyone around you at risk."

Distracted driving expert Dr. Paul Atchley says new laws need to go further than texting, addressing all device use behind the wheel. But he knows that will be a difficult pill for many people to swallow.

"We don't take it very well but sometimes, sometimes the risks are so great that we have to be willing to accept certain changes to our freedoms," Atchley said.

"Freedom is something that's given to us, but we need to earn the right to keep it," Perutelli said.

Perutelli knows all this can't change what happened to her husband. So after 17 months of grief, she has a message for all: "Is that phone call or that text really worth somebody's life? Is it really that important? Is it really going to make that big of a difference?"

The driver that killed Fred Perutelli and injured a state trooper last year appeared in Amherst County Court less than a month ago. He was sentenced to 12 months in jail, with six months suspended, after pleading guilty to reckless driving. The court threw out a charge of involuntary manslaughter.

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