Georgia’s “Hands Free” driving law went into effect on July 1, 2018. It’s a complicated rule, but it is having a positive impact, and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that most drivers in the Atlanta area appear to be complying with the law.
Precisely what does the Hands Free driving statute provide? What are the penalties if someone is convicted of violating the law? Let our Atlanta car accident lawyers explain.
WHAT DOES THE HANDS FREE LAW SAY?
The Hands Free statute has a number of provisions, including:
- A driver may not have a phone in hand or use any part of the body to support a phone.
- Drivers may only make or receive calls with an earpiece, speakerphone, wireless headphone, a phone connected to the vehicle, or an electronic watch. GPS navigation devices are still allowed.
- Earpieces and headphones may be used only for communication – and not for music or other entertainment.
- A driver may not send or read a text-based communication unless that driver uses a voice-based communication system that converts voice messages to text.
- Drivers may not send, read, or write text messages, e-mails, social media posts, or internet content.
- A driver may watch video only for navigation purposes and may not record video (with the exception of a continuously-running dashcam).
- Music streaming apps may be used if a driver activates and programs the apps while parked.
- Drivers may not use phones to control music apps while driving. Music streaming apps that include video are not allowed. Drivers may, however, hear and program music streaming apps that are controlled through the vehicle’s radio.
WHAT ARE THE EXCEPTIONS TO THE HANDS FREE LAW?
The Hands Free law does not apply to the following devices, and they may be used by drivers while driving:
- radios that are installed in a vehicle
- citizens band radios and citizens band radio hybrids
- commercial two-way radio communication devices or their functional equivalents
- subscription-based emergency communication devices
- prescribed medical devices
- ham or amateur radio devices
- in-vehicle navigation, security, or remote diagnostics systems
Additionally, exceptions to the Hands Free law are made for these circumstances:
- to report a traffic collision, a fire, a medical emergency, criminal activity, or hazardous road conditions
- an employee or a contractor of a utility service provider acting within the scope of his or her job duties in response to a utility emergency
- a first responder (meaning police, fire, or EMS) during the performance of official duties
- when a driver is in a lawfully parked vehicle, which does not include vehicles that have stopped for traffic signals or stop signs
WHAT ARE THE PENALTIES FOR VIOLATING THE HANDS FREE LAW?
A first conviction for violating the Hands Free law can mean a $50 fine and one point on the offender’s driver’s license. Second convictions may be penalized with a $100 fine and two points. Third and subsequent convictions may be penalized with a $150 fine and three points.
HOW MANY GEORGIA DRIVERS ARE OBEYING THE HANDS FREE LAW?
According to a research survey of 702 Georgia drivers conducted by the University of Georgia’s School of Public and International Affairs and published in January 2019 by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the vast majority of motorists in Georgia say that they usually obey the law.
While 45 percent of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution survey’s respondents said that they obey the law at all times, an additional 40 percent said that they obey the Hands Free law “most of the time.”
State Representative John Carson (R-Marietta), who sponsored the legislation, told the Journal-Constitution, “It’s going to take a culture change. It’s going to take enforcement.”
WHY WAS THE HANDS FREE LAW NEEDED?
The Hands-Free Georgia Act was passed by the state’s lawmakers in response to rising fatality numbers on Georgia’s streets and highways. Traffic deaths increased by one-third from 2014 to 2016. In 2017, traffic accidents in Georgia resulted in 1,549 fatalities.
Safety experts say that the law was needed because distracted driving was becoming a leading cause of highway deaths and injuries. Cellphones, the safety experts say, were distracting us to death.
Prior to the Hands Free law, adult drivers could hold a phone to talk but not to text. Police found that the law was tough to enforce – they sometimes couldn’t tell if someone was talking or texting. Now, with narrow exceptions, if you’re holding a phone, you’re breaking the law.
HOW MANY CELLPHONE-RELATED CITATIONS WERE ISSUED IN 2018?
The Georgia State Patrol issued 8,389 citations for cellphone-related offenses in the second half of 2018. Preliminary figures indicate that traffic deaths were down by about seven percent last year.
Nevertheless, more than eight percent of the Journal-Constitution survey’s respondents said that they “seldom” obey the Hands Free law, and more than four percent said that they “never” obey it.
What are your rights if you are injured by a driver who is violating the Hands-Free Georgia Act? Anyone in Georgia who is injured by a negligent driver is entitled under Georgia state law to full compensation for injury-related medical costs, lost wages, and all related losses and damages.
Being “entitled,” however, doesn’t mean that compensation is simply handed to you. In some cases, you’ll have to prove that you were injured by negligence and are entitled to compensation, and you’ll need the advice and services of an experienced Atlanta auto collision attorney.
HOW CAN A AUTO ACCIDENT LAWYER HELP YOU?
Contact an injury attorney immediately if you are injured in any accident with a negligent driver – or if you’re not sure whether negligence was involved. Your lawyer will investigate the accident, determine who was liable, and recommend the best way for you to move forward.
In some cases, the best way to move forward will be filing a personal injury claim. Most personal injury matters in Georgia are settled privately and out-of-court, so most injured victims of negligence do not even have to make a court appearance.
If your claim cannot be settled privately – and again, this is rare – your attorney may recommend taking your case to trial and asking a jury to order the payment of the compensation you seek. A good Atlanta car accident attorney will fight aggressively for the justice you deserve.
If you are injured by a negligent driver, a good attorney’s help is your right, but you’ll need to exercise that right and contact an attorney immediately. Your health and your future could depend on it.