The family of Lacey Gallagher traveled to Harrisburg last week to attend the signing of a bill inspired by the teenager’s death in 2007.
Lacey, a Fishtown resident and Little Flower High School senior, died in a car accident four years ago. Since then, her family and friends have been pushing for legislation promoting teenage driving safety.
On Sept. 28, the House of Representatives gave final approval to House Bill 9, “Lacey’s Law,” sending it to Gov. Tom Corbett’s desk for his signature.
Corbett signed the bill, sponsored by Bucks County Republican Rep. Kathy Watson, during an Oct. 25 ceremony in the safe driving classroom at Harrisburg High School.
“It was a beautiful ceremony,” said Denise Gallagher, Lacey’s mom.
According to statistics from AAA, the chances of a 16-year-old driver dying in a crash increase 39 percent with one teenage passenger, 86 percent with two teen passengers and 182 percent with three or more teen passengers.
More than half of teen driver and passenger deaths are the direct result of failure to use seat belts.
House Bill 9 requires that:
• Drivers 16? to 18 are permitted to transport only one other passenger under 18 for the first six months that they have their licenses. Exemptions apply for family members and if a parent or legal guardian is in the vehicle.
• All drivers and passengers under 18 must be buckled up or properly restrained in a child safety or booster seat. Failure to do so would be a primary offense, meaning that police can pull over a vehicle if an officer suspects someone is not wearing a seat belt or properly restrained. Currently, it is a secondary offense.
• Permit holders must take behind-the-wheel training for 65 hours, rather than 50. Ten of the hours must be after dark, and five must be during inclement weather.
“I am joined today by family members of children we have lost, and we all agree that ‘Lacey’s Law’ is the next step in keeping our children safe when they begin driving on their own,” Corbett said.
The bill will take effect 60 days from the signing, which will be Dec. 24.
“That’s quite a Christmas present,” Denise Gallagher said.
Lacey Gallagher was 18 when she died April 28, 2007, following her senior prom. She and six friends were riding in a sport utility vehicle on a wet and foggy night at about 3 a.m. on the Pennsylvania Turnpike’s Northeast Extension, south of the Quakertown exit, on their way to the Pocono Mountains.
The driver lost control of the vehicle, which hit a concrete barrier and rolled over before landing on its roof. Lacey was ejected and killed, while her friends were taken to the hospital with injuries. None were wearing seat belts. Drugs and alcohol were not factors.
“Teen drivers out there may feel that they are being singled out by this bill and, the fact is, they are,” Corbett said. “Each of our children, like Lacey Gallagher, represents our future, our hopes and our dreams. We are not ready to give them up to a needless accident, and we support this bill because we care so much for them.”
Denise Gallagher said the bill signing brought her family some peace, and they plan to spread awareness of the new law.
“Lives will be saved,” she said.
Gallagher called the new law a “great start,” adding that she supports forthcoming legislation to outlaw texting while driving.
Lacey was the second-oldest of four children of Frank and Denise Gallagher. Oldest son, Sean, has a 2-year-old daughter named Lacey. Brianna graduated from Little Flower in June. Alexis is a junior at Little Flower.
The Gallagher family and friends have established the Lacey Gallagher Memorial Scholarship Fund, which distributes $1,000 to essay contest winners who attend area Catholic high schools.
Applications for scholarships will be available in January at www.thelaceyfund.org ••
Reporter Tom Waring can be reached at 215-354-3034 or firstname.lastname@example.org