New cell phone law takes affect July 1 in Georgia

Tia Lynn Ivey News

A new state law aiming to curb cellphone use while driving comes into effect on July 1. Georgians will soon need to invest in blue-tooth technology, or other hands-free devices, if they wish to continue using their phones at all while driving.

As of July 1, it will be illegal for drivers to even hold their phones while operating a vehicle.

Governor Nathan Deal signed House Bill 673 into law earlier this year at Georgia Southern University, forbidding drivers “to hold or support a phone with their body” while driving.

“Here at the home of Georgia Southern, I think is an appropriate place to sign this legislation,” said Deal at the signing ceremony with pictures of Georgia Southern nursing students beside him who died because of distracted driving. The victims were Emily Clark, a junior from Powder Springs, Morgan Bass, a junior from Leesburg, Abbie Deloach, a junior from Savannah, Catherine (McKay) Pittman, a junior from Alpharetta, and Caitlyn Bagget, a junior from Millen.  “The five young women, who you see pictures of before here you today, their lives were lost some three years ago.  They were all nursing students.  They were headed to a career that would save lives and aid the suffering of many people as a result of what they intended to devote their lives to.  It is indeed a great tragedy.  But it reminds us what can happen in an instant.  A life, a life full of potential and the joy it brought to their families is suddenly taken away.  I am honored to sign this Hands-Free legislation here in this community, the home of Georgia Southern.  Its aim is to decrease distracted driving by prohibiting the use of wireless telecommunication devices while on any public roads in our state.”

Georgia is now the 16th state in the nation to adopt such a law. According to the Governor’s office, “When the law takes effect on July 1 of this year, drivers will no longer be allowed to have a phone in their hand or supported by any part of their body.”

The law aims to prevent accidents from occurring due to distracted driving. According to AT&T, who is leading a national campaign against district driving, eight drivers a day are killed in America because of distracted driving.

“It’s second nature to pick up our phones when we are behind the wheel but if you have it in your hand when driving after July 1, you run the risk of getting a ticket,” Harris Blackwood, Director of the Governor’s Office of Highway said.  “While we encourage everyone to stay off their phones, we recommend drivers to implement now whatever they will need in order to place and receive calls without having the phone in their hands or on their bodies.”

The law was written by Georgia Representative John Carson (R-Marietta) and passed during the 2018 Georgia General Assembly Session.

“I think so many people saw a need for this issue,” said Carson at the signing.  “I spoke to a number of the victims’ families and we could have done this bill signing in Atlanta.  But after talking to the victims of the Georgia Southern nursing students crash and there have been other crashes, unfortunately, before and since.  As much as this issue is a statewide issue—as much as this issue has effects everyone’s public safety—I will tell you it is a terrible issue in Atlanta traffic.  It is my understanding that this issue and these crashes have devastated the Statesboro community and devastated the Georgia Southern community.  I am very happy to be here today.  It is the end of an 18-month road.  Governor Deal, thank you for your leadership on this.”

According to the Governor’s Office, drivers will have to have an earpiece, wireless headsets or smartphone watch in order to make and receive calls and to use navigational devices. Texting, sending and receiving e-mails, posting on social media, and browsing the Internet are all prohibited, but drivers can text if they are using technology that converts voice to text messages.

Watching and recording videos are not allowed except for videos that are used for navigational purposes and continuously running dash cams.

But the law doesn’t stop there. It will also be illegal for drivers to hold their phones even while still at a stop sign or traffic light.

“It is legal to make a hand-held phone call or send a text, e-mail or social media post when the vehicle is lawfully parked,” said the press release.

“Drivers are allowed to have a phone in their hand to make emergency calls to report a traffic crash, criminal activity, fire, medical emergency or hazardous road conditions. Law enforcement officers, fire and EMS personnel and employees, and contractors of utility companies are exempt under the law providing the call is related to their official duties or while responding to a utility emergency.”

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