Law enforcement reports dramatic increase in distracted driver citations

Published 6:24 pm Friday, March 15, 2019

Local law enforcement agencies were able to step up efforts to catch distracted drivers last year following a change to O.C.G.A. 40-6-241 designed to make it easier to convict those caught in the act.

In a side-by-side comparison, the number of distracted driver convictions in Troup County in 2018 was more than 10 times higher than the number of convictions in 2017 — an increase that police are attributing to the Hands Free Law, which took effect in July 2018.

According to the Georgia Department of Driver Services, in 2018, 124 people were convicted of distracted driving in Troup County. In comparison, only 12 people were convicted of distracted driving in Troup County in 2017, under the more lenient law.

The LaGrange Police Department alone issued a total of 99 distracted driving traffic contacts in 2018 compared to 37 issued throughout calendar year 2017. The Hogansville Police Department issued seven citations for distracted driving in 2018, compared to one in 2017. The Troup County Sheriff’s Office issued seven citations for distracted driving 2018. Georgia State Patrol Post 2 has made 650 distracted driving contacts, including citations and warnings since the law went into effect. However, not all GSP Post 2 traffic contacts have been made in Troup County.

According to LPD Lt. Mark Kostial, the revision of the distracted driving law made it possible for officers to more aggressively address the issue of distracted driving.  

“Previously, only texting while driving constituted a law violation,” Kostial said in an email. “When this law was changed, the mere use of a cellular telephone while simultaneously operating a motor vehicle could result in enforcement action being taken by law enforcement officers, with a few exceptions.”

According to Kostial, that enforcement ability translates into safer roads.

“In calendar year 2017, a total of 2,446 wrecks were investigated within the City of LaGrange, which resulted in 445 individuals being injured and one traffic fatality being investigated,” Kostial said. “Last year our officers investigated 2,290 motor vehicle collisions with 377 injuries being report and two fatalities being investigated. This equates to nearly a 7 percent reduction in motor vehicle collisions and nearly a 15 percent reduction in injuries being reported.”

Kostial said the fatal collisions in 2018 involved an individual on a bicycle and an individual unlawfully operating a dirt bike on a city street while disregarding a stop sign.

Local law enforcement advises drivers to be careful and put the phone down while driving.

“It is best to be hands free and keep your full attention on the road,” TCSO Sgt. Stewart Smith said. 

According to state law, the fine for a first conviction is $50 and 1 point against the driver’s license. The fine is $100 and 2 points for a second conviction, and $150 and 3 points for three or more conviction. The fines for a second or third offense only apply when date of a second or third conviction takes place within 24 months of the date of the first conviction. First-time offenders can have the charge dropped by showing the court they have obtained a device that allows them to talk on a phone with hands-free technology or devices.