Stop using your phone while driving — or Georgia might make you

When I’m on the road and see a fellow driver do something stupid, sometimes downright dangerous, then see that person is messing with their phone, I get angry.

So I was pleased when the Hands-Free Georgia Act, which means people will no longer be allowed to use their phones while driving, recently landed on Gov. Nathan Deal’s desk for signing.

These changes are long overdue. According to a 2013 study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA),  approximately 660,000 drivers use cell phones or manipulate electronic devices while driving at any given daylight moment in the U.S.

“Hope you’re not reading my text about making it back safe while you’re driving!” (Pixabay)

The House Study Committee on Distracted Driving found that distracted driving is killing our loved ones, adding to our insurance costs and causing injuries. Automobile crashes claimed the lives of 1,550 people in Georgia in 2017. According to the Georgia Governor’s Office of Highway Safety, traffic crashes increased by 36 percent between 2014 and 2016.

Because of the alarming increase in accidents and traffic fatalities, Georgia will more than likely join 15 other states and the District of Columbia in banning drivers from holding electronic devices while driving. According to the House Committee’s report, 12 of these 15 states saw a decrease in traffic fatalities in the two years following the adoption of the laws, with six of them seeing a drop of more than 20 percent.

I believe these statistics more than prove the need for the stricter regulations that will be seen in the Hands-Free Georgia Act. We have all become too dependent on our electronic devices; they have become extensions of ourselves. Most of us keep them at arm’s reach, at all times.

When the Hands-Free Georgia Act passes, drivers will only be allowed “a single touch or swipe of a finger on a wireless telecommunications device to initiate or terminate wireless communication.”  Drivers will be required to use a hands-free accessory “that allows the driver of a motor vehicle to engage in wireless communication without such individual holding such wireless telecommunications device in his or her hands or supporting such wireless telecommunications device with his or her head and shoulder. Wireless communication means any of the following actions performed using a wireless telecommunications device: Writing or reading a text based communication; Initiating the exchange of data; Talking.”

The only real way for a driver to be compliant with this new law will be to use a hands-free option, like a headset, Bluetooth device, or a hands-free system in your vehicle. This way when your phone rings you can keep your eyes on the road and simply hit the button on your hands-free device to answer.

The current law banning texting and internet use is just not enforceable due to the fact that officers are unable to determine whether a driver is texting, which is illegal, or dialing a phone number, which at the moment is legal. The Hands-Free Georgia Act will mean that if you are driving and an officer observes a phone in your hand, if only for a moment, you can be pulled over and given a citation.

So, if you don’t already own a hands-free device, now would be a good time to purchase one, as the Hands-Free Georgia Act will also include stiffer penalties for offenders.

Currently, distracted driving infractions impose a fine of $150 for the first offense and one point on your license. However, with the new law, fines will more than double, with a first offense fine being a minimum of $300, with the possibility of being as high as $450, depending upon the judge’s discretion. In addition to higher fines, a first offense will put three points on your license.

These stiffer penalties definitely show that Georgia is serious about distracted driving and safety. The Hands-Free Georgia Act will not take away our right to talk via a hands-free device, but it will keep drivers’ hands on the wheel, and possibly save your life or that of a loved one.

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