GAINESVILLE, Ga. - Distracted driving is still a big problem in Georgia. Police in Gainesville are working to crack down on the issue and they're getting creative. We went along for their most recent operation.
We should all know by now that when you're behind the wheel it's illegal to use your phone for anything but phone calls, that includes when you're stopped at a traffic light.
Gainesville Police want people to stop and think before they touch their cell phones while driving, so they're grabbing their hard hats and getting to work.
At a quick glance, this busy intersection in Gainesville looks to be buzzing with construction workers. Look closer though and you'll see radios in the hands and guns on the hips of Officers Jessica Van and Drew Reed.
"What we have is plain-clothes officers, they are in what you would consider construction attire...they've got orange vests, hard hats, and they're looking for distracted driving," explains Gainesville Police Sgt. Kevin Holbrook.
Equipped with body cameras, the officers relay violations to the waiting traffic units positioned just down the street.
We were there as they wrote 45 citations in less than 90 minutes. Many were for distracted driving. Some drivers said they were using the GPS on their phones, or that they were checking messages.
Officers even cited one young driver for texting and driving while not wearing a seatbelt.
"We want the public to know that we are out here watching for it and we've been creative," Sgt. Holbrook says drivers just don't seem to take this seriously enough.
"Drunk driving is something we as a society look down to. It's socially unacceptable to be drinking and driving. We have to change our mindset that distracted driving is the same as drunk driving. It's just as equally deadly, just as equally dangerous," he adds.
In 2017, the City of Gainesville actually saw a 5 percent decrease in wrecks after climbing numbers for a few years. This traffic unit hopes they're helping to keep people safe.
"We want people to think twice before they do it. It may save your life and it may save another's," says Sgt. Holbrook.
The fine for distracted driving in Georgia is at least $150 and 1 point on your license, but there's an effort in the state capitol to make it even steeper. There's also a bill working its way through the Georgia Legislature that would require hands-free devices in cars, meaning you couldn't even hold an electronic device or phone while behind the wheel. You'd be allowed one swipe or one touch to start or end a call. The new bill would also make it easier for officers to enforce the law, not standing on a curb in a construction uniform.
The cities of Smyrna and Marietta have recently passed similar laws.