Come Monday, Georgia drivers won’t be allowed to touch their cell phones while driving unless they are making an emergency call.
This means no texting, no talking, no music from the cell phone unless your phone is mounted in a holder and you are using an ear bud or Bluetooth-style ear piece. No changing playlists either; if a law enforcement officer sees you touching your phone, it could mean a ticket.
While texting and driving has been against the law, the new Hands-Free Georgia Act (Georgia Code Section 40-6-241 (c)) states, “all drivers operating a motor vehicle on any highway of this state are prohibited from holding or supporting, with any part of the body, a wireless telecommunications device or stand-alone electronic device;
“Writing, sending or reading any text-based communication, including a text message, instant message, e-mail or internet data; watching, recording, or broadcasting a video or movie.”
Getting caught once means a $50 fine and a point in your license. A second violation is $100 and two points. A third time? Three points and $150 fine, according to information from the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety.
Georgia State Patrol Post 45 Sgt. David Bryant said troopers will use discretion, but offenders will be ticketed if a law enforcement officer deems necessary.
“The Hands Free law is going to be good for Georgia,” he said. “A lot of crashes involve distracted drivers. A lot of them involve electronic devices.”
Making a texting and driving charge stick has been difficult in the past, since it sometimes could be hard to prove, he said. But the new law makes it easier for a trooper or officer to see clearly of a driver is holding a phone.
Both the Bulloch County Sheriff’s Office and Statesboro Police Department will enforce the Hand Free law as well.
“This will be a transition period for many of us,” said Statesboro Police Chief Mike Broadhead. “We have become accustomed to using our phones while driving, and while it is certainly convenient, we all know that distracted driving is dangerous. We will all have to make an adjustment to the new ‘hands-free’ law, but I am confident that we can change our habits with the application of a little effort.”
Drivers will be allowed to use GPS, voice-to-text features, and can make and receive phone calls hands-free with single-ear headphones or Bluetooth.
The law allows for use of in-car navigation, communication and entertainment systems. Law enforcement, emergency and utility workers are still allowed to use their phones.
Habits are hard to break, but forgetting the law won’t save you from a ticket.
Troopers and other officers are “not interested in ‘nit-picking’ drivers, but if you are holding or supporting your phone, or obviously texting while driving, don't expect the officers to look the other way, Broadhead said.
Herald reporter Holli Deal Saxon may be reached at (912) 489-9414.