Update as of June 27, 2018: The Hands-Free Georgia Act (HB673), which is discussed in this article, will go into effect on July 1st, 2018. This means that drivers will no longer be permitted to hold a cell phone while they are driving in the state of Georgia. Governor Nathan Deal signed the bill into law on May 2nd, 2018.
Georgia is expected to join fifteen other states that have passed laws that ban holding a cell phone while behind the wheel. Currently, Georgia law forbids texting and driving, but both talking on a handheld cell phone and dialing are still legal.
HB673 aims to change that as an effort to reduce distracted driving accidents.
What is HB673?
HB673 basically prohibits drivers from holding a cell phone or another electronic device while they’re driving a car. The goal of the distracted driving bill is to make it easier for law enforcement to uphold driving laws. Since holding a phone to talk or dial is still currently legal, it’s difficult for police officers to prove that the driver in question was actually texting (and thus breaking the law) instead of just dialing or holding the phone.
Of course, the bill is also intended to reduce accidents, injuries, and fatalities on Georgia’s roads. The bill will raise awareness of the dangers of distracted driving and hopefully discourage people from taking their attention off the road by looking at a screen.
Since 2014, traffic fatalities in Georgia have gone up by 33%. The state alone faced 1,550 deaths last year, and it’s believed that cell phones are a big part of the jump. An estimate from Emory’s Injury Prevention Research Center puts the number of drivers on their phones at any given time at 7%.
So. The reason for the bill is clear. The numbers don’t lie.
When will the bill go into effect?
The bill has passed the Georgia General Assembly and now awaits Governor Deal’s approval (which it is expected to get.) The governor has 40 days from the bill’s passage on March 29th to sign the bill into law, veto it, or let it pass into law without his signature.
What’s not legal?
Under the new bill, the following would be ILLEGAL:
- Holding a cell phone, wireless device, or another electronic (like an iPod)
- Writing, reading, or sending text (ex. Text messages, email, IM, or internet data)
- Reaching for a device so that you are no longer in a proper seated driving position with seatbelt restraint
- Watching a video or movie (other than navigation)
- Recording a video
The new distracted driving bill would make these actions while driving unlawful. Again, the goal is to reduce the number of car accidents caused by distracted driving. Under the new law, the first-time offense means a fine of $50, but it increases for each offense after that.
What’s still legal?
Certain things will still be legal and permissible. The following would be allowed while driving…
- Using hands-free technology to talk or text
- Using a GPS or navigation app
- Smart watches
- Reporting an accident, medical emergency, fire, crime, or hazardous road condition
- Radios, CB radios, subscription-based emergency communication devices, prescribed medical devices, and in-vehicle security, navigation, or remote navigation
- Using a handheld phone while parked off the road in an area where parking is permitted (NOTE: This does NOT mean being stopped at a traffic light.)
Distracted driving and insurance premiums
Distracted driving has contributed to an increase in traffic accidents and fatalities. And insurance companies look at statistics to determine car insurance rates. The higher the chance of an accident occurring, the higher the premiums drivers are likely to face. That’s why rates are often higher for people who have gotten speeding tickets or who have been involved in accidents. The decision to commit to being safe driver can help you save money on car insurance, so the distracted driving bill might help lower your premiums.
That’s the scoop on the distracted driving bill (HB673) that is expected to pass in Georgia. Hopefully, we will see a decrease in traffic-related injuries and fatalities and the roads will become safer for everyone. Take care and drive safe, Atlanta.
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