Georgia state troopers have made more than 100 stops enforcing Georgia’s new hands-free driving law on Sunday, the first day the law went into effect. Georgia has become the 16th state in the US to ban hand-held cell phone usage while driving.
The Hands-Free Georgia Act, aimed at reducing distracted driving by makes it illegal for drivers to hold their phones or other wireless communications devices, took effect on Sunday, July 1.
Department of Public Safety spokeswoman Tracey Watson told WSB-TV the Georgia State Patrol issued 34 citations and 98 warnings across the state.
Under the Hands-Free Georgia Act, drivers are not allowed to operate a phone by hand or use any part of their body to support the device. Fines range from $50 to $150.
The law also prohibits drivers from sending any text-based communication, watching or recording video, or scrolling through social media on their phones, though using a phone for GPS will be allowed.
Phone calls will be allowed only if a car is equipped with a hands-free device or Bluetooth, the new law permits. Some exceptions to the law include drivers reporting a crash or those who are parked, not just at a stop light.
According to the Georgia Governor’s Office of Highway Safety, Georgia has seen significant increases in vehicle traffic crashes, fatalities and bodily injury.
The vast majority of these increases have been in rear-end crashes, single-car crashes and crashes by drivers from 15 to 25-years-old. State and local law enforcement have stated that these incidents are a clear indication of driver inattention.
Fifteen states that have passed hands-free driving laws, including California, Illinois and New York, saw a 16 percent decrease in traffic fatalities in the two years after the law was passed. In addition, traffic fatalities were reduced even further in subsequent years.
Georgia State Rep. John Carson of Marietta introduced the law in 2018 noticed Georgia led the nation with the highest increase in auto insurance premiums, said Robert Hydrick, the communications manager with the Georgia Governor’s Office of Highway Safety. He said the reason was the high rate of crashes, fatalities and injuries.
“In 2014 we were at 1,165 (traffic deaths), and in the last two years we’ve been 1,550 approximately, so that’s almost 400 more per year, basically a 33 percent increase in a two-year period in traffic deaths,” Hydrick said. “There are several factors, but one of the biggest is drivers not paying attention on the phone.”
Hands-Free Georgia Act Talking Points
- A driver cannot have a phone in their hand or use any part of their body to support their phone. Drivers can only use their phones to make or receive phone calls by using speakerphone, earpiece, wireless headphone, in-vehicle hands-free audio system or an electronic watch. GPS navigation devices are allowed.
- Headsets and earpieces can only be worn for communication purposes and not for listening to music or other entertainment.
- A driver may not send or read any text-based communication unless using voice-based communication that automatically converts message to a written text or is being used for navigation or GPS
- A driver may not send or read any e-mails, social media or other internet content
- A driver may not watch a video unless it is for navigation.
- A driver may not record a video (continuously running dash cams are exempt)
Exceptions to the law are as follows:
- Reporting a traffic crash, medical emergency, fire, criminal activity or hazardous road conditions.
- An employee or contractor of a utility service provider acting within the scope of their employment while responding to a utility emergency.
- A first responder (law enforcement, fire, EMS) during the performance of their official duties.
- When in a lawfully parked vehicle—this DOES NOT include vehicles stopped for traffic signals and stop signs on the public roadway.