House Bill 673, also known as the “Hands-Free Law,” went into effect this past Sunday, and both Georgia drivers and local law enforcement are sill trying to figure out how to completely handle it.
Let’s face it, old habits die hard.
Basically, Georgia drivers 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 a speakerphone, earpiece, wireless headphone, or if their phone is connected to the vehicle or an electronic watch.
In addition, headsets and earpieces can only be worn for communication purposes and not for listening to music or other entertainment.
In fact, drivers may not write, send or read any text messages, e-mails, social media or internet data content.
Drivers also may not watch a video unless it is for navigation and they cannot touch their phones to do anything to their music apps when they are on the road.
All of these rules still apply even if a vehicle is stopped for traffic signals and/or stop signs.
Clearly, these are all big changes for many local drivers on the roadways.
The only exceptions for average drivers to the law are in the cases of reporting a traffic crash, medical emergency, fire, criminal activity or hazardous road conditions.
As for law enforcement, there are several options as far as whether officers choose to issue warnings for violators or actual citations because there is not a 90-day grace period provision in the Hands-Free Law.
So, why is this law needed in Georgia?
Well, the Peach State has seen a significant increase in vehicle traffic crashes, fatalities and bodily injuries. The vast majority of these increases have been in rear-end crashes, single-car crashes and crashes by drivers ages 15 to 25, according to the Georgia Governor’s Office of Highway Safety.
Fifteen states across the country have already passed hands-free driving laws, and they saw approximately a 16 percent decrease in traffic fatalities in the two years after the law was passed.
So, here are the basic questions that drivers are asking about this new law:
Could I still talk on my phone while driving?
Yes, as long as it is done hands-free. Drivers would be able to use their phone’s speakerphone, Bluetooth technology, an earpiece, a headphone or other device to allow them to communicate on a hands-free basis.
Could I touch my cellphone to dial a number or receive or end a call?
Yes. The law would simply prohibit drivers from holding or supporting the phone.
Would I be required to purchase a hands-free accessory, such as a mount or bracket?
No. The proposed law simply states that a driver cannot hold or support a mobile phone. A phone can be left on a vehicle’s console, a front seat, etc. However, for the safety of all Georgians, state and local law enforcement recommend the purchase and use of a hands-free device if using a mobile phone while driving.
What would the fines/penalties be?
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.
Could I talk to someone via video telephony apps, such as FaceTime or Skype, if doing so “hands-free?”
No. The proposed hands-free driving law states that a driver shall not “record or broadcast a video” on any mobile phones, iPads, computers, etc., while operating a vehicle.
Earlier this week, deputies from the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office were standing at two local intersections — the east off-ramp of I-20 at Washington Road and Windsor Spring Road at Tobacco Road — in an attempt to educate the public about the new law.
There was a deputy dressed as a civilian standing along the edge of the road, holding a sign for drivers to see which asked for their help in complying with the new law.
If the deputy observed a violation, he then would radio a description of the violator’s vehicle to uniformed deputies in marked patrol cars who were waiting nearby. The officers then conducted a traffic stop on the vehicle.
During the traffic stop, officers explained to the driver the guidelines of the new law and if there were no other infractions, a warning citation was issued to the driver.
It was an odd approach to the new law because anyone driving by those two intersections were confused by the casually dressed man holding up a cardboard sign stating the guidelines of the new law.
The officers looked more like protesters of the new law rather than actual law enforcement.
But officers have no choice but to take this new law seriously.
On Sunday, July 1 (the first day of the new law) state troopers reportedly made more than 100 stops enforcing the new hands-free driving law.
That first day, there were about 34 citations issued and 98 warnings given out across the state.
It will be interesting to see whether law enforcement can get the public to take this new law seriously and put their phones down.
After all, everyone knows that drivers are addicted to their phones, especially the younger generation of drivers.