On July 1, 2018, many new laws take effect in Georgia. One with significant impact on motorists is the “Hands-Free Georgia Act,” which restricts drivers’ use of cell phones and stand-alone electronic devices. Many myths abound about this law, so let’s set the record straight.
Although Georgia law already forbids distracted driving and texting while driving, the new legislation expands those prohibitions. Now, all drivers who are operating a motor vehicle on any highway in Georgia are prohibited from: (1) holding or supporting with their hands or any part of the body a wireless telecommunications device or stand-alone electronic device; (2) writing, sending, or reading any text-based communication, including text messages, instant messages, social media posts, emails, or internet data; and (3) watching, recording, or broadcasting a video (unless it is for navigation or a continuous running dashcam) or movie. Penalties range from a $50 fine and 1 point to a $150 fine and 3 points depending on the number of convictions someone has on their record.
There are exceptions for first responders and utility service providers during performance of their official duties; reporting a traffic crash, medical emergency, fire, crime, or hazardous road condition; and when a vehicle is lawfully parked. However, being parked does NOT mean stopped for a traffic signal or stop sign on a public road. There are also special provisions for commercial and school bus drivers.
Some recent myths are that drivers can’t talk on a cell phone, listen to streaming music, or use GPS navigation. These are incorrect. Drivers can engage in these activities as long as they use hand-free technology, such as a speakerphone, earpiece, wireless headphone, bluetooth connection, or phone connected to the vehicle or electronic watch. Drivers may use music streaming apps only if they are activated while parked or if connected through the vehicle’s radio system. Importantly, there is NO grace period for violations, though law enforcement officers may opt to issue warnings to help educate motorists as they adapt to the new law. If you are in doubt on usage, err on the side of caution and don’t use it! Have a happy and safe Independence Day!