Starting July 1st, Georgia’s new hands-free driving law will go into effect. Most of the rules are common sense, but you may be surprised by exactly what is and isn’t allowed.
Starting July 1st, Georgians will be banned from holding their phones while driving, although the details can be a bit tricky. In states where similar laws have gone into effect, traffic fatalities have gone down by 16%. That’s a huge difference and certainly justifies the new law here in Georgia.
So what exactly can’t you do? Here’s the rundown:
- First and foremost, you cannot hold your phone in your hand or support it on any body part, like you lap, while driving. That’s the simple part.
- You cannot use your hands to send a text message.
- You cannot read, write, or send any text communication. This includes texting in any app or reading text in any app or on the internet.
- You cannot watch or record videos. (It is actually frightening that watching videos was legal until now.)
- You cannot use your hands to start, stop, or adjust any kind of streaming music or audio.
Now that you know what you can’t do, it’s important to go over what is still legal. In general, this law encourages drivers to use hands-free devices. But what does that mean? Well, to start with drivers should be using some sort of base or support for their phones if they will be using them, instead of holding them in a hand or on a lap. Beyond that, you are expected to interact with your phone without your hands. For the most part, that means voice activation.
Here is exactly what remains legal:
- Using a single button or swipe to answer a phone call, without holding the phone (for example, if the phone is in some sort of holder).
- Sending text messages via voice command, without using your hands. This might mean instructing Siri, Google, or some other feature on your phone to send a text message, then dictating the message to your phone.
- Talking on the phone without holding it in your hands. You could use a bluetooth earpiece, a single earbud (but never two), or simply using the speakerphone function. If your phone and car have bluetooth integration, you can use that while driving for a hands-free conversation.
- Using a GPS device or app without holding the phone in your hands. It is unclear whether it is legal to use your hands to enter an address or interact with the GPS device or app while driving, so it is best to avoid it. Plus, it’s much safer not to touch your phone while driving.
There are, of course, some exceptions. If you are using your phone to report an accident, road hazard, medical emergency, or crime, the hands-free rules don’t apply. Similarly, if you are an on duty emergency responder, like police, firefighters, paramedics, and ambulance drivers, the laws do not apply. They also don’t apply to utility workers and contractors responding to emergency calls.
All of these rules apply any time your are driving. But “while driving” doesn’t just mean while you are moving. Hands-free laws apply in stop-and-go traffic and at red lights. Unless you are lawfully parked, all the rules apply, moving or not. “Lawfully parked” is defined as having the car in park on the side of the road, in a parking lot, or in another place where it is legal to park.
What if you get caught and ticketed? You can avoid paying the ticket on your first offense!
If you get a ticket, the first offense comes with a $50 fine and 1 point off your license. While the fine may seem like not that big of a deal, the point is more worrisome. But you can avoid both the fine and the point. All you have to do is show up in court and show the judge a receipt for a hands-free device. It’s a great way to avoid the negative consequences of your first offense and to encourage people to be safe instead of just punishing them.
If you get caught a second time, you’ll face a $100 fine and another point off your license. If you get caught a third time, the fine goes up to $150 plus a third point off your license. But if you’re facing a third offense, you have bigger problems than just the fine and the points. You really need to get off of your device for your safety and the safety of those around you!
Is this an encroachment on personal freedom?
Some people are saying that this new law is a case of the government sticking its nose in where it doesn’t belong. But the fact is, laws like this one have already saved lots of lives in states that have enacted them.
Have you seen those signs on the interstate that say something like “GA roadway fatalities this year: 643”? We are barely halfway through the year and fatalities have already topped 700! So if this law can save 16% of those lives, that’s more than enough reason to let the government into this little piece our lives.
Don’t get caught. Drive safe!