July 1st is going to be a big day for the state of Georgia. It’s the day that the Hands-Free Georgia Act (which bans the use of handheld cellphones while driving) will go into effect. Georgia is the sixteenth state to pass a hands-free driving law. The states that have passed such legislation have done so in an attempt to reduce traffic fatalities due to distracted driving. Distracted driving has gained a lot of attention because traffic-related accidents and deaths have increased over the past few years, and cell phones have been a major factor in that trend.
While many other states have passed hands-free driving laws, the legislation is now coming to Georgia. We’ll explain which states have hands-free laws, the reasoning behind the new legislation, and break down what is and is now allowed under the Hands-Free Georgia Act.
Which states currently have hands-free driving laws?
When Georgia’s law goes into effect on July 1st, there will be sixteen states total that have hands-free laws. Check out the following list:
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- New York
- West Virginia
Washington D.C., Puerto Rico, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands also have laws banning the use of handheld cellphones while driving.
If you’ll be driving through these states, take the time to read up on their hands-free law. You still have to obey that state’s law even if you don’t live there, and any trouble you get into from a law-enforcement perspective will follow you.
Why are hands-free laws passed?
First and foremost, these laws are passed with the intent of making the roads safer for all drivers. As we mentioned, traffic deaths have been going up. The hope is that the hands-free law will help law enforcement uphold the no texting and driving laws that many states (including Georgia) have. Since holding a cell phone or physically supporting it is illegal, it’s easier for police to clearly see who’s breaking the law.
In Georgia, for example, it was still legal to dial a phone and talk on the phone prior to the Hands-Free Georgia Act. That made it very difficult for police to tell if a driver was texting (and breaking the law) or talking on the phone (and not breaking the law.)
Why has all this attention and legislation been turned to distracted driving? Well, the short answer is that distracted driving is dangerous. It takes about five seconds to send or read a text message. If you’re traveling at 45 mph, you can go the length of a football field in that time. That means you’re essentially driving blindfolded for 300 feet. That’s just scary to think about. (On a bit of a side note, this is why it’s especially important to talk to teen drivers about distracted driving – their age group has one of the highest rates of texting and driving.)
In 2016, 3,450 people were killed in distracted driving-related accidents.
A word about insurance rates:
Remember, being a safe driver can help you prevent accidents. And in turn that can help you save money on your car insurance. The increased severity and frequency of accidents have made auto insurance rates in Georgia go up, but keeping a clean driving record can help you keep your rates down.
What has been the result of hands-free laws?
The results of hands-free laws in the 15 (soon to be 16) states that have them are noteworthy:
There has been a 16% decrease in traffic-related deaths in 13 of the 15 states.
In Georgia, 1,549 people died in traffic accidents in 2017. If the new Hands-Free Georgia Act allows the state to follow this trend, Georgia’s traffic-related deaths could decrease by 250 per year.
And that’s pretty significant.
What is and is not allowed under the Hands-Free Georgia Act?
The major thing to remember is that you can’t hold your phone and drive. In Georgia, drivers will not be permitted to use more than one button to answer a call or use a phone. You cannot reach for a phone if you have to unbuckle your seatbelt or stand to get it. Drivers also cannot text, use email, watch videos, or record videos while driving. Of course, if you are safely and legally parked you can email, text, and hold your phone to your heart’s content. But “parked” does not mean stopped in traffic or stopped at a red light or stop sign.
What is still allowed under the law? Well, drivers in Georgia are still allowed to use GPS, and they can also make and take calls so long as it’s hands-free. They can still use voice-to-text functions. If a driver doesn’t have a car with built-in Bluetooth calling, they can use Bluetooth earpieces or single-ear headphones (such as an earbud with a mic.) But remember – you can only use an earbud in one ear, not both. And drivers can still use in-car navigation systems and entertainment. (Yes, you can still use a phone to stream music provided that you set the playlist before you start driving.)
An important note:
There is one exception to the ban on using handheld phones, and that is if you need to make an emergency call.
What’s the penalty for breaking the hands-free law in Georgia?
- The first offense for breaking the hands-free law is one point on your driver’s license and a $50 fine.
- The second offense means two points on your driver’s license and a $100 fine.
- The third offense will mean three points on your driver’s license and a $150 fine.
So, that’s the scoop about the Hands-Free Georgia Act. Many states have passed similar legislation concerning distracted driving, although some states’ laws are more lenient than others. At any rate, it’s important to be aware of the dangers of distracted driving and the driving laws in the various states you might visit. Remember, the purpose of hands-free laws is to make the roads safer and to reduce traffic-related collisions. It’s important to do your part.
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