ATLANTA (FOX 5 Atlanta) - Drivers in Georgia are aware of our new hands-free law but apparently are not following the rules.
According to AAA, 98 percent of drivers surveyed said they know about the law. But 75-percent said even after the law kicked in July 1, they have spotted other drivers holding their phones behind the wheel.
“It doesn’t surprise me,” said Sgt. Brian Rankin with Snellville Police.
Just ahead of Distracted Driving Awareness Month, Snellville Police cracked down on illegal phone usage, issuing 464 hands-free violations in March. The department’s chief told Fox 5 it appears the violations have recently been trending up – a source of frustration for law-abiding drivers.
“It’s very dangerous first of all, in the blink of an eye, anything can happen to you,” said Rasheed Tolase.
“Save your life, save the lives of others because being distracted, you could get into an accident, the light could be red, and you wouldn’t even know,” said Hope Franklin.
Under the "Hands-Free Georgia Act," drivers may not hold a phone with their hands or use any part of their body to support the device. They also may not use headphones, although they will be allowed to talk on the phone using a speaker, earpiece, and hands-free Bluetooth connections.
Police acknowledge it’s a hard habit to break – but one, if ignored, with dangerous consequences.
“Drivers have habits,” Rankin said. “When they’re driving their phone will ring, ‘Oh I’ll just use it for one second.’ They’re not thinking of the consequences [of] that action of looking down [and] taking their eyes off the roadway.”
Georgia joins 16 other states and Washington, D.C., in banning hand-held cellphone use while driving, an action prompted here, in part, by a dubious record: The state has had the highest increase in auto insurance rates since 2011.
States that have adopted hands-free driving policies have seen a decline in motor vehicle accidents by an average of 16 percent over a two-year period, the U.S. Department of Transportation says on its website. Approximately 660,000 drivers use their phones while driving during daylight hours, the department said.
In Georgia, a first conviction for using a mobile phone while driving carries a fine of $50 and one point on the driver's license. The second conviction would cost $100 and add two points to the license. The third and subsequent convictions would have a fine of $150 and add three points to the license.
Exceptions include reporting a crash or emergency. Utility workers and first responders are also exempt from the law.
Law enforcement officers have the option to issue warnings as a way to educate drivers on the law. This will be up to the discretion of the officer and will be determined on a case-by-case basis.