New “hands-free” law goes into effect Sunday

Published 6:17 pm Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Ready or not, drivers in Georgia will have to keep their phones out of their hands and away from their bodies if they want to talk on their devices when the state’s Hands-Free Law takes effect this Sunday.

The switch to hands-free comes during one of the busiest travel periods of the year and at a time when the Georgia State Patrol and local law enforcement agencies will be on the road as they have in years past during the July 4th holiday period.

Georgia’s Hands-Free Law will only allow drivers to talk on their phones without having it in their hands or supported by their body.

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Bainbridge Public Safety Director Jerry Carter is in favor of the law and hopes it will lead to a safer city.

“It will be strictly enforced,” said Carter. “It’s a good law. We have so many people around here with the phones up to their ear. They don’t see or hear what’s around them. They are concentrating on what’s on the phone and not what’s around them.”

Even with hands-free, drivers cannot write, read or send text messages, e-mails, social media or any other material on the internet, however, voice-to-text communication is legal.

The law also prohibits drivers from watching and recording video, but they can watch GPS/navigational videos and continuous running dash cams are permitted.

Drivers can listen to streaming music through their phones, but cannot touch their phone to pro-gram them when they are on the road but music apps that include video do violate the Hands-Free Law.

“There is no 90-day grace period in the law, which means drivers who are caught with a phone in their hand or any part of their body starting Sunday run the risk of getting a citation,” Harris Blackwood, Director of the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety said.  “While a good number of officers and law enforcement agencies will be issuing warnings during the first few months, we encourage all drivers to go hands-free before July 1.”

Parking their phones when they are on the road will hopefully reduce the number of crashes during the July 4th holiday period as AAA is predicting a record 39.6 million people will be traveling by vehicle in the United States from Tuesday, July 3 through Sunday, July 8.

“The peak of the summer travel season means there will be more vehicles on the road, and that re-quires drivers to stay focused on what is happening on the road and avoiding distractions like their phones,” Colonel Mark W. McDonough, Commissioner of the Georgia Department of Public Safety said. “The Georgia State Patrol reminds drivers to exercise caution in holiday travels, no matter how short the trip may be. Obey the posted speed limit, check that everyone is wearing a seat belt, and make sure when talking on your phone when behind the wheel that it is not in your hand or on any part of your body after July 1.”

While the focus has been on drivers to park their phones before the Hands-Free Law takes effect, the Georgia State Patrol, Georgia Department of Transportation and Governor’s Office of Highway Safety remind everyone to keep the fireworks off the road by not getting behind the wheel if they are planning to celebrate with alcohol.

Preliminary numbers from GDOT show there  are 41 people killed in traffic crashes in the state from July 1-9 in 2017 and eight of those deaths were alcohol-related.

State and local law enforcement officers have zero tolerance for impaired drivers and will take any driver they find whose blood-alcohol concentration level is above the state limit of .08 to jail.

Those whose July 4th celebration plans include alcohol are encouraged to plan ahead for a ride with a sober driver or with a ride service.