Everything you need to know about the hands-free law of Georgia
The Hands-Free Georgia Act, aimed at reducing distracted driving, takes effect Sunday and makes it illegal for drivers to hold their phones or other wireless communications devices.
A new law is trying to get Georgia drivers to make a change.
The Hands-Free Georgia Act, aimed at reducing distracted driving, takes effect today and makes it illegal for drivers to hold their phones or other wireless communications devices.
The law targets those accustomed to reaching for their phone in the car and texting or talking on their devices while driving. Under the law, drivers will also be prohibited 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. Some exceptions to the law include drivers reporting a crash or those who are parked, not just at a stop light.
The law was introduced in early 2018 after state Rep. John Carson of Marietta 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.”
Nationwide, there were 3,450 fatalities tied to distracted driving in 2016, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Hydrick said in Georgia, there were 72 deaths where distracted driving was shown to be the cause. That number is likely higher since it’s difficult to prove an accident was caused by distracted driving, Hydrick said.
“If people put their phones down and realize that their only focus when they’re driving should be driving their vehicle, that’s the only thing the matters,” Hydrick said. “Then we can reduce traffic deaths.”
Law enforcement can begin giving citations for breaking the law immediately, though Hydrick said the first few months will be focused on educating drivers on the new law. Fines range from $50 and one point on a license for the first conviction, $100 and two points for the second, and $150 and three points for the third.
“There’s not a grace period, it becomes the law and you need to obey the law not just because it’s the law but because it can help save lives,” Hydrick said. “What we want people to understand is that it’s the law and if they get pulled over it’s up to the discretion of the law enforcement officer and the agency.”
Brett Ardrey, the owner of Outspokin’ Bicycles on Walton Way, said distracted drivers are one of his biggest fears as a cyclist. He said some customers will come in looking for bikes so they can travel in areas that aren’t shared with cars over their worries about distracted drivers.
“Customers come in and they say, ‘I would like to ride my bike but I’m really scared to get on the road because of all the cellphones and all the distractions,’ so that’s been on the top of people’s minds as they come in and look for road bicycles,” Ardrey said.
He said he thinks the law is a step in the right direction, but he isn’t sure it will deter all drivers.
“I think it’s going to take time,” Ardrey said. “I think people are going to be sneaking, trying to get around it and not get a ticket, and I don’t think there’s enough law enforcement officers to enforce it to where it just stops all of a sudden, but what I hope it does is bring awareness of how serious (distracted driving) is.”
Hands-free devices can be purchased at local stores. One department manager at the Wrightsboro Walmart said he noticed he noticed an uptick in sales of hands-free devices starting Friday.
Hydrick said he understands many drivers have a habit of reaching for the phone when they’re in the car, but he hopes the law will make people accustomed to putting the phone away while driving.
“The ultimate goal is to get phones out of the hands of people while they’re driving,” Hydrick said. “This is about saving lives.”
HANDS FREE GEORGIA ACT: FACT OR FICTION
Fiction: Drivers can still talk on the phone when it is between their head and shoulder, as long as they are not holding the phone.
Fact: Supporting the phone with any part of the body is prohibited under the new law.
Fiction: Drivers can watch videos on their phone while it is supported on a hands-free device.
Fact: Drivers can watch only GPS navigation on their wireless device. Any other video is prohibited.
Fiction: There is a 90-day grace period where drivers will not be ticketed.
Fact: Drivers can receive a citation the first day.
Fiction: Drivers can listen to music through headphones.
Fact: Drivers can have one earbud in to conduct a phone call, but not to listen to video or music.
OTHER LAWS TAKING EFFECT JULY 1
HB 834: Provides for ending a rental or lease agreement in cases involving family violence
HB 65: Regarding medical marijuana, changing provisions regarding eligibility for the Low THC Oil Patient Registry
SB 376: Prohibits consumer credit reporting agencies from charging a fee to place or remove a security freeze on an account
HB 419: Regulates fireworks in certain counties
SB 407: Comprehensive reform for offenders; relating to criminal procedure, impeachment by evidence of conviction of a crime, driver’s licenses, penal institutions, and grounds for refusing to grant or revoking professional licenses.
HB 732: Expands the definition of and punishment for sex trafficking and setting mandatory sentencing guidelines.
HB 803: Prohibits trafficking a disabled adult, elder person, or resident; provides for definitions, elements of the crime and penalties, mandatory sentences, and exceptions.
HB 890: Makes it unlawful to use an emergency exit after shoplifting.
HB 513: Provides for signs to be posted at certain medical facilities to indicate locations where a newborn child can be left so that the mother can avoid criminal prosecution
HB 779: Establishes the Homeland Security division of the Georgia Emergency Management and Homeland Security Agency.
HB 751: Establishes the Georgia Emergency Communications Authority, relating to public utilities and public transportation, so as to revise the Georgia Emergency Telephone Number 9-1-1 Service Act of 1977
HB 809: Establishes requirements and guidelines for markings for any vehicle used by the Georgia State Patrol when they stop motorists.