By Michael Giusti
Georgia is the latest state to ban handheld cell phone use while driving, making it the 17th state to do so in recent years.
Drivers still can make or receive calls, provided they are using some kind of hands-free device. It says that drivers are allowed to push one button to make the call and once again to end the call, but anything further would be considered distracted driving and open the driver up to as much as $150 in fines and points on their drivers license.
Holding the phone, or even supporting it with any part of your body is off limits.
The law even applies at red lights or when the driver is stopped in traffic.
It does, however, allow drivers to make calls if they pull over and park legally before doing so.
The hands-free law aims to reduce distracted driving, which, according to Russ Martin, director of government relations for the Governors Highway Safety Association, is an essential priority. That’s because he said 3,450 people died because of distracted driving in 2016 alone. And that number is almost assuredly an underestimate, because there is no national standard for police to report whether an accident was caused by a distracted driver.
“It’s a major concern,” Martin says. “Anyone looking out the window at other cars in traffic will see other drivers looking at their phones. It’s everywhere.”
Martin says that drivers who talk on their phones are four times more likely to be involved in a crash than people who are not. Texting raises that likelihood to eight times.
Law also applies to texting, emails
The law also applies to other uses of technology, such as watching or shooting videos while driving, text messaging, and sending or receiving emails. Emergency calls to report accidents and such, are allowed. And first-responders, emergency workers, and a few other groups of people are also exempted.
Using text-to-speech and text-reading software, such as allowing Siri or Google to read your incoming messages to you, would be allowed, provided you don’t have to handle your phone.
Georgia’s law does allow for drivers to use their phones for navigation purposes, but even that isn’t without its risks, Martin says.
“Navigation apps are very helpful, and if they are used responsibly, they are kind of a safety feature,” Martin says. “But it comes down to how it is used.”
Martin says that a recent study showed programming a navigation app was a “significantly demanding task” and one that is almost sure to distract a driver. That’s why he said the best practice is to program in the destination before ever shifting out of park.
Georgia’s law also forbids reaching for any piece of technology while you are driving, if that motion makes you leave your seat in any way or defeats your seatbelt.
And although Georgia’s law allows for hands-free technology, Martin suggests drivers avoid using even that when they are behind the wheel.
“Even though state laws allow it, the best research shows that the risk of using hands-free technology is about the same as using hand-held phones,” Martin says. “It is a cognitive distraction. It’s not just about what you are doing with your hands, but what is going on in your mind.”
Martin says his organization recommends all drivers, regardless of the law, to avoid all cellphone use while behind the wheel.
Like all of the other laws banning cell phone use in the United States, Georgia’s law is a “primary enforcement” law, meaning an officer can pull you over just for using a cell phone, regardless of whether you are committing any other traffic violation.
Jonathan Adkins, executive director of the Governors Highway Safety Association, urges all state legislatures to pass similar handheld cell phone bans.
The District of Columbia and these other states have laws banning handheld cell phones are:
- District of Columbia
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New Mexico – in state vehicles
- New York
- Rhode Island
- West Virginia
States with partial handheld cell phone bans are:
- Arkansas — bans 18-20 year olds
- Louisiana — drivers with learner’s or intermediate licenses
- Oklahoma — drivers with learner’s or intermediate licenses
- Tennessee — In school zones
- Wisconsin — in work zones