Hands down: How you can prepare for the hands-free driving lawDriver in a Mitsubishi Galant using two hand held mobile phones at once, in a traffic jam. Photo obtained via Wikimedia Commons
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When House Bill 673, or the “Hands-Free Law,” goes into effect throughout Georgia on July 1, drivers will no longer be able to have a phone in their hand or use any part of their body to support their phone while driving.
Gov. Nathan Deal signed the bill into law on May 2. According to Heads Up Georgia, the law is needed because of significant increases in vehicle traffic crashes, fatalities and injuries as a result of distracted driving.
The Georgia Governor’s Office of Highway Safety reported that in 2015, 3.5 percent of Georgia drivers said they were distracted when they were involved in a fatal crash.
“There’s no text message that is worth your life,” Harris Blackwood, director of the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety, told WABE. “Someone who is texting and driving is just as dangerous, if not more dangerous, than someone who is drinking and driving.”
The new rule means that drivers will need to make or receive phone calls using speakerphone, earpieces or other hands-free methods. Still, the law specifies that headsets and earpieces can only be worn for communication purposes, not listening to music or other entertainment. GPS devices are still allowed.
According to a guide to the law, some exceptions to the law include reporting a traffic crash, medical emergency, fire, criminal activity or other hazards. Additionally, drivers in lawfully parked vehicles – not cars stopped for traffic signals – can use their devices.
When the law takes effect, the Georgia Department of Public Safety and local law enforcement have the option to issue warnings for violations as part of the effort to educate and to help motorists adapt to the new law, the guide said.
Still, citations “can and will be issued starting July 1 for any violation of the Hands-Free Law, including those where the violation involves a traffic crash.” There is not a 90-day grace period provision in the Hands-Free Law.
For the first 60 days of the law, Decatur Police will opt to issue warning citations for violations of the law, according to a Decatur newsletter.
After that, though, the first conviction results in a $50 fine with one point on a license, and the second carries a $100 fine with two points on a license. Third and subsequent convictions will result in a $150 fine and three points on a license.
It’s important to note that the law applies to more than just holding a device in your hands.
“They can be pulled over and cited for having their phone in their hand or supported by any part of their body,” Lt. Jennifer Ross with the Decatur Police Department said. “An example would be having the phone laying on your lap or propped up between your stomach and the steering wheel. It is very important for drivers to understand what the new law prohibits.”
Ross hopes the law helps improve drivers’ behavior, as it has in other states.
“The 15 states that have passed hands-free driving laws saw a 16 percent decrease in traffic fatalities in the two years after the law was passed,” Ross said. “In addition, traffic fatalities were reduced even further in subsequent years.”
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WABE published a list of mobile apps to help drivers go hands-free, some of which can block notifications, send automated messages while driving, read texts out loud and more.
Until 8 p.m. this evening, the Decatur Police Department is hosting a contest related to the law on their Facebook page. To enter, people can comment with a reason to go hands-free other than the new law. All valid entries will be entered into a drawing and the winner will be announced Friday, June 8.
For more information on the law’s specifics and for frequently asked questions, go here.
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