It’s hard to think back to a time when we did not have a phone in our cars and trucks. We have become so accustomed to being available 24 hours of the day to family, friends, work and social media. However, an alarming statistic showed that most accidents were the cause of distracted driving. After one metro Atlanta city rolled out their own hands free law, many cities followed. It wasn’t long before the State of Georgia wrapped up its work on the Hands Free Georgia Act.
Hands Free Georgia Law
The Hands Free Georgia Law has been in the making for quite some time. The purpose behind this law is to curb distracted driving and ultimately reduce the number of traffic fatalities on Georgia’s highways caused by drivers playing with their cell phones, answering texts, making calls or reading Facebook.
Between 2016-2020 there were nearly 55,000 confirmed distracted driving accidents, resulting in 126 fatalities. There were nearly 1 million accidents that are suspected to be the result of distracted driving in those same years and almost 2500 of those were fatal. It was obvious to lawmakers that something should be done with cities responded to public outcry. In response, many cities around Georgia began to enact their own ordinances which prevented the use of electronic devices while behind the wheel. Rather than have a variety of confusing laws throughout the State, Georgia enacted the Hands Free Act.
The Act provides that drivers no longer be “behind the wheel” while holding a phone or other wireless electronic device, unless making an emergency call. The following are prohibited actions as listed on Governors Office of Highway Safety
- 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, phone is connected to vehicle 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 write, send or read any text messages, e-mails, social media or internet data 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)
- Music streaming apps can be used provided the driver activates and programs them when they are parked. Drivers cannot touch their phones to do anything to their music apps when they are on the road. Music streaming apps that include video also are not allowed since drivers cannot watch videos when on the road. Drivers can listen to and program music streaming apps that are connected to and controlled through their vehicle’s radio.
There are exceptions and exemptions for emergencies situations and for emergency personnel. They are as follows:
1. Reporting a traffic crash, medical emergency, fire, criminal activity or hazardous road conditions.
2. An employee or contractor of an utility service provider acting within the scope of their employment while responding to an utility
3. A first responder (law enforcement, fire, EMS) during the performance of their official duties.
4. When in a lawfully parked vehicle—this DOES NOT include vehicles stopped for traffic signals and stop signs on the public roadway.
What Does This Mean For You As a Driver
It means that all drivers must comply with this law unless you are one of the exceptions noted above. Officers have an option to issue warnings, however, they also have the ability to ticket under this law as well. As a driver, you may be ticketed for this infraction whether or not you are stopped for another offense or in an accident.
If you receive a ticket for this offense alone, the fines are as follows:
- First conviction: $50, one point on a license;
- Second conviction: $100, two points on a license;
- Third and subsequent convictions: $150, three points on a license.
What Should You Do?
Having points added to your license can be a big deal. Points can lead to a suspended license. Not only that, but points can create increases in your Georgia auto insurance and cancellation of your policy if you have enough. If you are ticketed for more than one traffic violation at a time, these can add up quickly.
The Bottom Line
Research shows a link between distracted driving related to hand held phones and accidents. According to the CDC, “Sending or reading a text message takes your eyes off the road for about 5 seconds, long enough to cover a football field while driving at 55 mph.” (See https://www.cdc.gov/motorvehiclesafety/distracted_driving/index.html) This raises insurance, causes arrests and kills people. The reality is this: with so many new options in technology, there are ways to use the phone without holding it, if you must absolutely use the phone.
Many cars have a method to connect phones directly through the speaker system. If you have never used it and your car or truck is 2004 or newer, you may have the ability. Research it, have a friend show you or take it to a car shop. Once you learn how to connect it, it’s very simple to use.
Hands Free Mode
Most phones have an In Car or Hands Free Mode. This allows you to touch one button and everything goes to voice activated. It’s very simple to use. Depending on your model of phone, you can provide verbal commands such as “call David Crawford” and it will dial his office provided you have that number in your phone.
If you are about to engage in a heated discussion, it is best to wait until you are not driving. Even with a hands free device, distracted driving can be caused by anything that takes your focus off of the road. If you have a conversation with a person who owes you money, for example, but is refusing to pay you, you may become upset enough that it affects your driving. It only takes a second for an accident to happen.
The Hands Free Georgia Law is in effect now and has been since July of 2018. If you have been arrested or need representation for a traffic ticket, please contact our office. David Crawford has the experience you need to help you. He will take the time to understand your concerns and help protect your record.