One of the most discussed bill last year was the “Hands-Free” bill by Rep. John Carson, of Marietta.
Spurred by the horrible tragedy when a distracted driver mowed down five young Georgia Southern nurses on Interstate 16, the bill received almost unanimous votes by both the House and the Senate and was eagerly signed by the Governor. As the law goes into effect this week, I thought I would talk about what you need to know.
First: Why do we need this law? It is simply astounding, but Nationwide, more than 660,000 drivers are using their phones: every-single-daylight-moment. If that doesn’t alarm you, the staggering cost of $40 billion and 3,500 deaths every single year should.
Many, many safety experts have studied this phenomenon and found that a driver who is texting while driving is 23 times more likely to get into an accident. In fact, you are far more likely to get into an accident from cellphone usage than drinking while driving. Finally, the 15 states that have changed their laws saw a 16 percent decrease in accidents in just two years. That is a lot of lives saved.
Georgia in particular has seen a sharp spike in single-car accidents and rear-end crashes. Because of that, Georgia has one of the highest (worst) insurance rates in the nation. You are currently paying for these accidents with increasingly higher insurance premiums. Worse, traffic deaths in Georgia have skyrocketed by 38 percent to record highs of more than 1,500 deaths at a cost of $11 billion every year. Law Enforcement tells us that most of those deaths were caused by distracted driving.
The most important thing you need to know is what the law actually prohibits. The name of the law says it all: “Hands-Free.”
You are not allowed to “physically hold or support with any part of your body” your cellphone while driving.
You are allowed to touch a “single button” on your phone to make a call and you are allowed to talk on your phone as long as you are not holding it. This can be accomplished with Bluetooth or simply by using the phone’s “speaker” feature.
You are allowed to listen to music on your phone and also navigate with your phone as long as you are not holding your phone. The easiest way to accomplish this is to buy a cell phone mounting device for your car.
You are not allowed to watch or record any video while driving and the current law against texting or internet browsing while driving is still in place.
You are allowed to report an emergency and you may use your phone if you are legally parked, but that does not include being stopped on a public roadway or at a traffic signal. The first conviction is $50 and 1 point, the second is $100 and 2 points and the third is $150 and 3 points.
I’ve heard some argue that people should have the right to endanger their own safety if they so choose to do so. While I theoretically agree, no one owns the road alone: we all share the road together. It is also a tragic truth that most of the people killed by distracted drivers are not the distracted drivers themselves, but innocent victims instead. Besides, driving is a privilege, not a right.
There are hundreds of driving laws you obey every day: you can’t drive on the left side of the road, you must stop at red lights, the speed limit is 70 mph, etc. This new law is an unfortunate measure that thousands of deaths have forced us to create.
Belton is a Republican from District 112, serving in the Georgia House of Representatives.