Hands-Free Georgia Act
What you need to know about the new law
Believe it or not, texting while driving is as dangerous as drunk driving – sometimes even more dangerous. The director of the Georgia Governor’s Office of Highway Safety commented, texting is “similar to that of a drunk, because they’re going to be all over the road. The only difference is, the texter is completely focused on that screen, and the drunk is trying to stay focused on the road the best they can.”
Of course, neither driving and drinking nor texting while driving are acceptable. But, texting while driving does not receive the same level of attention. It is distracted driving, at its core, killing thousands of people every year and injuring many more – some such that their lives will never be the same.
National Distracted Driving Statistics
In March 2018, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) published a report about distracted driving accidents in 2016. More than 37,000 people were killed in the U.S. that year, with 3,450 of those deaths attributed to accidents involving distracted drivers. Texting while driving is one of the most common distractions.
At any time during daylight hours, approximately 481,000 U.S. drivers are using their cell phones while driving. Many of them are texting, which is, according to the NHTSA, “the most alarming distraction.” Whether you are sending or receiving a text, your eyes are off of the road for on average five seconds. If you are traveling at 55 mph, that means you have driven the length of a football field as though you were blindfolded.
There are three types of distracted driving: 1) visual where you take your eyes off of the road; 2) manual where you take your hands off of the steering wheel; and 3) cognitive, where you take your mind off of your driving. Texting while driving involves all three types of distractions and is by far the most dangerous.
In 2014, AT&T published the report of a survey it conducted of 98 percent of adult cell phone users who said they regularly used their cell phones for texting. Even though the adults admitted they were aware of the dangers of texting while driving, 75 percent of them said they still texted while driving despite the dangers. A recent study published in the Insurance Journal found that “more than half of teens in the United States admit to texting while driving.”
The Buck Stops In Georgia: hands-free law effective July 1, 2018
Between 2014 and 2016, deaths on Georgia highways increased by nearly 40 percent. Only four other states had a higher increase in death rates during that same period of time. In 2017, 1,550 people were killed in Georgia car crashes. Many of the deaths were attributed to distracted driving, most likely due to drivers using cell phones to text.
This increasing problem prompted Georgia lawmakers to pass stricter laws against texting while driving and cell phone usage, generally, while driving. Even while it is illegal to text while driving in Georgia, it is difficult for law enforcement to determine whether a driver is actually texting. Therefore, the Georgia legislature passed the Georgia Hands-Free Act which prohibits the following, while driving:
- Holding or supporting a cell phone/iPad/computer/etc. with any part of your body;
- Reading, writing, or sending any text based communication;
- Watching or recording a video;
- Using any type of social media; and
- Listening music via apps on your electronic device.
Various Georgia cities have had their own ordinances regarding cell phone use by drivers. As of July 2018, those ordinances will be superseded by this new state law, no matter how old or young they are. A first offense will result in a $50 fine and a point on the driver’s license. Penalties increase for subsequent offenses.
The offense is a “primary” offense, meaning officers can pull over drivers who have a cell phone in their hand whether or not they have committed any other driving offense. Although there are some acceptable ways under the new law to use a cell phone while driving, all must be hands-free and texting is specifically prohibited.
If you were injured by a driver whom you suspect was texting at the time of the accident, contact our distracted driving attorneys for a free case evaluation.