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Georgia goes hands-free Sunday
Law enforcement officials break down the law for local drivers
Hands free
Left: CPD Sgt. Starr Smith (top) demonstrates the correct way to drive with a Bluetooth headset. SCPD Officer Jacob Rice (bottom) shows the correct way to drive. Top to bottom right: Rice demonstrates the incorrect way to handle a phone call under the new hands-free law. OPD Chief David Harvey demonstrates how drivers can be distracted by a phone. PPD Officer Ryan Boston shows how texting while driving can distract drivers. Smith demonstrates how taking selfies is now illegal. - photo by Jackie Gutknecht

Fines and penalties:

  1. First conviction: $50, one point on a license
  2. Second conviction: $100, two points on a license
  3. Third and subsequent convictions: $150, three points on a license. 

GEORGIA– The state of Georgia will go hands-free Sunday as House Bill 673 will take effect, legally changing the way drivers interact with technology while behind the wheel.

HB 673, better known as the “Hands-Free Law,” was passed by the Georgia General Assembly and signed into law by Gov. Nathan Deal earlier this year.

The Covington News reached out to representatives of every law enforcement agency in Newton County to discuss the new law and how it will affect local drivers.

Sgt. Charles Cook with the Porterdale Police Department said the hands-free law provides an all-encompassing approach to distracted driving.

“The texting while driving was just what it says if we catch you texting while you’re driving that was a violation,” he said. “This is anything. You cannot have your phone in your hand. You can’t have it on your lap. If it is touching your big toe you are in violation of this law.

“The way it reads is if it touches any part of your body, you’re in violation.”

Cook recommended either electronic devices out of reach or if they’re used for navigation to obtain a vent clip or prop of some sort to make sure they can stand on their own. He recommended pairing the phone with a Bluetooth device and placing it in the glovebox or center console of the car so it was still able to connect to the Bluetooth, but not a temptation for the driver to use it.

“The only time you can hold it is if you’re using it for an emergency,” Officer Jacob Rice with the Social Circle Police Department said. “Like if you see a crash, you see a robbery or another crime committed, a medical emergency – like if someone is on the side of the road having seizures – stuff like that, you can use it then. Other than that, that is the only exception.”

The only other way to legally use a phone while in the car would be while legally parked.

“The only way you can text is if you’re legally parked,” Rice said. “If you pull up to a red light, if you’re at a stop sign, if you’re in traffic, you’re not legally parked and would be in violation of the law.”

“Basically, the new law means you cannot operate a motor vehicle while operating a cell phone, holding a cell phone with your hand or supporting a cell phone with another part of your body,” according to a pamphlet provided by the Covington Police Department.

Georgia State Patrol Senior Trooper Cal Barton said he plans to enforce the law from the first day.

“I may give you a warning, depending on how the stop goes, but we are going to be writing tickets,” he said.

Barton said the massive publicity around the law eliminated the need for a grace period.

“There is no requirement that an officer observes another violation or write any other citation to enforce this new law,” according to the CPD pamphlet.

CPD Sgt. Starr Smith told The Covington News she recently pulled someone over after they ran a red light while watching a televised game on their phone. That is only one of the many things she’s seen people do behind the wheel in her career as a police officer.

SCPD Chief Tyrone Oliver said he has started a “Stop Rolling and Scrolling” campaign to help raise awareness about the dangers of distracted driving.

Staff Writer Darryl Welch and Walton Tribune Managing Editor Cosby Woodruff contributed to this report.

The Newton County Sheriff’s Office could not be reached for comment after multiple attempts.