The Hands-Free Georgia Act
This Sunday, July 1, 2018, will mark the commencement of Georgia’s new hands-free law, designed to address the “epidemic” of distracted drivers on the state’s roadways. If you have not already done so, this weekend is the time to make sure that you have everything you need to be in compliance with this new law or risk fines that could strip you of your license and your ability to earn a living.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock (or working in the film industry) you have probably already seen some form of the following list of things you can and cannot do with your smartphone (and other digital devices) behind the wheel under the new law.
In case you haven’t read the list, here’s a quick rundown.
The New Rules
You can’t hold a wireless communication device. Whether you are using a cellular phone, a smartphone, a tablet computer, an MP3 player, a dedicated GPS unit, a laptop computer or any other standalone device it is illegal for you to physically hold or support that device with any part of your body. So, that person you always see driving down the road with a phone pinched between their shoulder and ear is finally a criminal. Make sure it isn’t you!
For the most part you can no longer interact with your phone’s screen while driving. This includes reading, composing or sending emails, text messages, instant messages, photographs, videos, or any other form of communication that requires you to touch or look at your device. Inform your fans that you will no longer be posting Facebook Live videos on your way home from work.
There are some things you are allowed to do with your devices.
You are allowed to use earphones, with a few conditions. If you use wired or wireless headphones you can only cover one ear. Leave the other ear open so you can hear emergency sirens, train horns, and other vehicles. People who use single-ear Bluetooth earpieces are safe, albeit unfashionable.
Many of these headsets include a button that allow you to invoke your phone’s digital voice assistant, allowing you to make calls without looking at your phone’s screen.
You are allowed to use hands-free technology to interact with your phone. Major smartphone platforms offer digital voice assistants. Voice dialing is commonplace these days and quite easy (“Siri, call Jimmy, on speakerphone”). These assistants can also check your voice mail, text messages, and email inbox at your command (“Siri, check messages”). These assistants can read messages back to you and allow you to dictate and send replies. This technology is imperfect and remains prone to misinterpretations.
You are allowed to use navigation apps, but only to view the display. Active users of the Waze app, which promotes active reporting of accidents and slow-downs to its members, may find themselves in violation of the new law if they are observed interacting with the app during the operation of a motor vehicle.
Contrary to some erroneous information on the web, streaming services like Spotify, audio books, podcasting apps, and other audio delivery services are legal, you simply are not allowed to interact with the screen on your device while you are operating a motor vehicle while driving.
In cases of emergency you may use your wireless device to report a traffic accident, a medical emergency, a fire, crimes, road hazards, or hazardous conditions.
Law enforcement, emergency workers, and utility workers have certain exemptions.
CB Radios and other radio communication devices are still legal, good buddy.
The cost of violating this new law is currently:
1st Offense: $50 1 point on your license
2nd Offense: $100 2 points on your license
3rd Offense: $150 3 points on your license
Note that a driver with 15 points in a 24 month period will be suspended.
What is the Hands-Free Georgia Act?
This Act is an amendment to the existing Title 40 of the Official Code of Georgia Annotated, relating to motor vehicles and traffic, expanding previous references to cellphones to cover wireless telecommunications devices and standalone electronic devices (“devices other than wireless telecommunications device, which stores audio or video data files to be retrieved on demand by a user”), and the distractions the operation of those devices might entail.
The legislation was inspired by a marked increase in traffic fatalities in 2017 (up nearly a third from 2014). The new law eliminates a previously murky area in the previous texting ban, in regard to how drivers are using their phones.
Link to the text of the new act:
Why did the Georgia General Assembly pass this Act?
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) describes “Distracted Driving” as a broad term that encompasses a wide variety of actions that might take a driver’s attention from the task of safe driving. A five year study ending in 2016 showed that there were about 3,000 distracted driving crashes a year, killing about 3,300 people and injuring 410,000 people a year during the span of that five year study.
In 2006 the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute and the NHTSA released the “100-Car Naturalistic Driving Study Fact Sheet”, a study which showed that “Nearly 80 percent of all crashes and 65 percent of all near-crashes involved driver inattention just prior to (i.e., within 3 seconds) the onset of the conflict”.
The Insurance Information Institute (III) has been compiling information from key studies on distracted driving. Read the III article.
Since the early 2000s cellphones have become increasingly associated with distracted driving. In their 2018 Travelers Risk Index Distracted Driving Infographic, Travelers Insurance reports that 1 in 5 consumers admit to using personal technology while driving, with nearly 40% of drivers reporting that they are distracted for 15 minutes per hour driven (on average).
Recent studies have shown that sending or reading text messages can take drivers’ eyes from the roadway for 5 seconds – “At 55 mph, that’s like driving the length of an entire football field with your eyes closed”.
If you frequently use a navigation app like Google Maps, purchase a cradle to hold your phone in place. There are many options available. Some clip to air vents, others use suction cups. Note: the farther you must look away from the roadway to your phone’s screen makes the device more dangerous – every second counts when driving a motor vehicle.
Begin using headphones (one ear only) for telephone calls if your car does not already have built-in Bluetooth functionality. Even wired headphones (one ear only) work very well.
Learn to use your phone’s voice assistant to check text messages, voice mail, and email.
Move your phone out of view entirely when you are not using it for navigation purposes.
Turn off notifications or mute conversations from apps like Facebook Messenger to reduce your instinct to check your phone.
Talk to your family and friends about their unsafe phone habits. It’s better to have them alive and annoyed with you than injured (or worse) from unsafe phone use.