By David Pendered
Almost before Georgia drivers have a chance to adapt to the new state law that, as of Sunday, bans drivers from touching their phone while driving, roadways will be under increased scrutiny from law enforcement officers who plan to step up patrols for the July 4th holiday.
The Georgia State Patrol made it a point to remind drivers of the hands-free driving law that took effect Sunday:
- “Please keep in mind as you travel, that beginning July 1, Georgia law will prohibit all drivers from using hand-held cell phones while driving,” Col. Mark W. McDonough, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Public Safety, said in a statement.
McDonough also observed that troopers will be on full alert during the holiday period, which begins at 6 p.m. Tuesday and ends at 11:59 p.m. Wednesday:
- “During the travel period, troopers will be on high visibility patrols watching for those who are driving impaired or distracted, not wearing seat belts, and other traffic violations that could potentially cause a traffic crash.”
Impaired drivers remain a prime target because they are a leading cause of fatal crashes at this time of year, according to McDonough:
- “During this time of year, troopers report that impaired driving is one of the leading contributing factors in a majority of the fatal traffic crashes that they investigate.”
Last year, the holiday period was 102 hours long. The Georgia State Patrol reported that it investigated 645 traffic crashes that resulted in 323 injuries, and nine fatalities. Additionally, troopers issued 9,983 citations, 14,767 warnings, and made 288 arrests for driving under the influence.
The Georgia Legislature passed the Hands-Free Georgia Act, House Bill 673, with strong support from the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety. According to the state patrol, the Office of Highway Safety has observed:
- “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. GOHS adds that the 15 states that have passed hands-free driving laws 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.”
Here’s how the Department of Public Safety describes in layman’s terms the new hands-free law:
- “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 include:
- “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.”