Local law enforcement officers weigh in on new distracted driving law

Published 8:59 pm Friday, May 4, 2018

Gov. Nathan Deal signed the Hands-Free Driving Law on Wednesday, making driving with a phone in hand illegal starting July 1. Georgia State Patrol Post 2 commander Sgt. Maurice Raines said the patrol will have a 90-day grace period in Troup County.

“We know it is going to be a learning curve for everyone, and our goal for the first 90 days is to stop the public and educate the public at the same time,” Raines said. “After the 90-day period, my officers will make cases against those who violate the law.”

The new law also prohibits recording video.

All forms of communicating — talking, writing a text, sending an email or using the internet are illegal under the new law.

Drivers can still use hands free devices while driving, such as bluetooth or GPS devices.  Texting while driving was banned in 2010.

The first offense is a $50 fine and one point to a driver’s license, second offense is a $100 fine and third offense is a $150 fine, Raines said. Drivers can only have 15 points on their licenses in two years, according to Raines.

“The easiest way for the public to understand and the easiest, simplest way I can tell the public is this — don’t drive with a phone in your hand. (If you don’t), you’re not in violation of the law, and if you do, you are in violation of the law,” Raines said.

According to Raines, about 80 percent of vehicle accidents in Troup and Harris counties were caused by distracted drivers.

“We’re going to be doing a 90-day grace period, and in the meantime our officers will be getting educated on how to enforce that law,” Raines said.

Troup County Sheriff James Woodruff said he thinks the law will make the county’s roads safer.

“To start with, we’ll give courtesy warnings, but after a while, we’ll have to take more extreme measures and start writing tickets,” Woodruff said.

Raines said driving with one hand gives drivers less control of the vehicle.

“We’re going to learn the law, read the law, educate ourselves about the law, we’re going to enforce the law, and we’ll educate the public,” Raines said. “We’re excited, and hope to see the number of crashes go down.”

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, distracted driving was a factor in 3,450 fatalities in 2016.

Drivers will still be allowed to use their phones in cases of emergency, such as reporting a crash, criminal activity, a fire or medical emergency.