Local cops ready for phone law

Tia Lynn Ivey News

Georgia is now a hands-free state as of July 1. Georgia drivers are no longer allowed to hold their phones while driving. The only legal way to use phones while driving is connect your phone to a bluetooth system that can be controlled through voice commands or the vehicle’s built-in radio controls.

Local police forces are prepared to enforce the law, but plan to issue warnings initially until the public is well aware of the new law.

“We have preprinted 1,000 warnings to give out when our officers start pulling people over for using their cell phones,” said Madison Police Chief Bill Ashburn.

“We are definitely going to allow an education time period,” said Morgan County Sheriff Robert Markley.

But both officials warned not to take this grace period too lightly as officers have the discretion to issue citations right away if they feel the situation warrants it.

Penalties for using a cell phone while driving will result in a $50 fine and one point on an offender’s license for the first offense. The second offense will yield a $100 fine and two points on a license. The third offense carries a $150 fine and three points on a license.

“Those points can add up fast, It’s a big deal” said Ashburn, who noted an accumulation of points can cause a driver’s insurace rates to spike and if a driver receives 15 points within a two-year period, the result will be license suspension.

According to Markley, the new cell phone law will be easier to enforce than just the anti-texting and driving law.

“Before it was harder to prove that someone was texting instead of using GPS or checking the time or whatever. Now, if we see someone using their phone with their hands at all, we can issue a citation,” said Markley. “I think people are going to be shocked at first. People who usually don’t get pulled over are going to get pulled over because of their force of habit. It will take a little while for people to get on board. But the intention of the law is to make it safer for everybody to drive down te road and cut down on distracted driving. We live in a society that is connected 24/7 and it will be a shock to some not to be able to use their phones while driving.”

Distracted driving due to cell phone use has plagued the roadways for years, increasing the rate of wrecks and fatalities in recent years.

“I was looking at the statistics, and it’s incredible how these rates have increased because of cell phone use while driving,” said Ashburn.

According to the US Department of Transportation, roughly 10 percent of all fatal vehicle crashes are caused by distracted driving—and 14 percent of those are directly caused by cell phone use.

According to Ashburn, as of press time on Tuesday, July 3, very few warning have been handed out.

“We have seen a lot of people already come into compliance with this,” said Ashburn. “People are trying to do the right thing and we have seen a lot of drivers with hands-free devices set up in their cars. Compliance with this law will make the road safer for everybody.”

The new law has created a higher demand for cellphone mounting apparatuses and bluetooth earpieces and microphones.  The local Madison Walmart carries several products that are flying off the shelves, needing daily shipments to meet customer demand.

“We can’t keep them in the store,” said Carla Goss, Madison WalMart Assistant Manager in the Electronics Department. Some of the mounts available include: Scosche Window & Vent Mounting Kit for $19.99,

MagicMount Universal Vent Combo for $14.99, Onn Car Mount for $4.88, and Scosche MagicMount Pro PopSocket Universal Mount for $24.99. WalMart also carries these products online, available at WalMart.com.

The fight for harsher laws regulating cell phone use while driving in Georgia was born out tragedy, including Caleb’s Law, a law banning texting and driving in Georgia, which was passed after a Morgan County teenager, Caleb Sorohan was, was killed in car accident while texting and driving.  This latest law was passed after Georgia nursing students were killed in a crash related to cell phone usage. 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.”

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