New Distracted Driving Law in Georgia: What do you need to know?

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Living in a university town with thousands of college-aged drivers, Athens residents might be relieved to hear about our state’s new stance on distracted driving. Effective beginning July 1. Some individuals in Clarke County have already experienced warnings issued from police who are apparently keeping an eye out for drivers using their phones (even while sitting at red lights). Here is everything you need to know about the new law:

When was the law created?

On May 1, 2018 Governor Nathan Deal signed the “Hands-Free Georgia Act” in Statesboro, GA. View the full act including status history here: http://www.legis.ga.gov/legislation/en-US/Display/20172018/HB/673

When does it take effect?

The law goes into effect July 1. A first offense under the new law is punishable by a ticket or points on your license. According to the AJC:

“Police departments across the region will take different approaches to enforcing the new law. Some departments will cut motorists slack for weeks or months, writing warning tickets and handing out educational pamphlets in most circumstances. Others will offer no “grace period,” encouraging officers write tickets immediately.”

Wasn’t texting already illegal in Georgia?

Yes! According to the state’s DMV website:

“Considering that texting while driving combines all three types of distractions (visual, manual, and cognitive), the state of Georgia has prohibited all drivers from doing it. It’s a primary law, that is enforced vigorously. In Georgia, you may get a ticket for texting even if your vehicle is stopped while you are doing it.”

However, texting and driving have been more difficult to enforce. Deal stated in an interview with WABE in May that:

“It’s going to be a whole lot easier to enforce than the one we have now,” Deal said. “Just simply saying no texting and driving and having signs on the roadway reminding people of that doesn’t seem to have stopped the process of people holding a phone and texting.”

What is legal and what isn’t, as of July 1, 2018?

Ga. House Bill 673 requires drivers to use hands-free technology when using cell phones and other electronic devices while driving. The goal is to pry our eyes away from cell phones while we’re behind the wheel – behavior experts say distractions have led to a spike in fatalities on Georgia highways. But “hands free” isn’t as clear cut as it sounds. The bill prohibits anyone from handling a “wireless telecommunication device” while operating a motor vehicle. Here are the big things to remember:

  • Writing, sending or reading any text-based communication including a text message, instant message, email or internet data while holding your device is prohibited while operating a motor vehicle.
  • You can still use your radio, CBs and a variety of other in-auto systems.
  • It is ok to plug your iPod or phone into your stereo, or pipe music through your car from your device via bluetooth or other wireless technology, but it is illegal to hold and operate the device itself while operating the vehicle.
  • “Hands free” doesn’t just mean “hands.” Your wireless device cannot be in your lap or in the crook of your neck.
  • Passengers can watch videos or movies in a moving vehicle, but drivers can’t.
  • You can pay attention to a mapping app or GPS screen, but the screen cannot be in your hands.
  • You cannot record a video while driving.
  • Speaking or texting while using hands-free technology is permitted.
  • Some people are exempt from the hands-free requirement if they are performing official duties: police, firefighters, emergency medical personnel, ambulance drivers, other first responders and utility employees or contractors responding to a utility emergency.
  • The bill also increases the fine for distracted driving from $150 up to $900 for repeat offenders. It also increases the penalty from 1 point up to 4 points assessed against a driver’s license for repeat offenders.

 

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