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Letter to the Editor: Know new hands-free law
Jeff Johnson
Dawson County Sheriff Jeff Johnson

Probably at some point and time, most of us have been guilty of distracted driving in some way, shape or form. I imagine that each of us have a “distracted driving” story, we could share. One such embarrassing personal recollection involved reaching down to manually adjust the station on my AM/FM cassette radio player. For those who may remember, the dial had to be just right to pick up a station.  I glanced up just as I was careening off the roadway and into a ditch. As a young, teenage driver, it was definitely a lesson learned. 

Obviously times have changed.  Even then, we had distractions; however they pale in comparison to those of today.   In the electronic age we live, we are certainly faced with a multitude of distractions. Ironically, many of which are designed to make travel safer and simpler.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that approximately 9 people are killed and more than a 1,000 are injured daily, in U.S. crashes involving distracted driving. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), distracted driving claimed 3,450 lives in 2016. It is tragic statistics such as these, which contributed to stricter regulations. 

Effective July 1, 2018, the new “Hands-Free Georgia Act” goes into effect. The new law defines certain devices, lists prohibited acts and provides for penalties.   This new law may be viewed in its entirety at the Georgia General Assembly website by searching HB 673.

In short summary, the law prohibits the operator of a motor vehicle from holding (or supporting with his/her body) a wireless telecommunications device. These devices include cell phones, text-messaging devices, personal digital assistants, stand-alone computers, GPS receivers or any similar wireless device used to send/receive communications or data. Devices such as earpieces, headphones and smart watches are permitted to be used (as they are not required to be held).  

Wireless telecommunication devices do not include Radios, CB Radios, commercial two-way radios, subscription based emergency communications devices, prescribed medical devices, amateur / ham radios, and in-vehicle navigation/security/remote diagnostics systems.

Drivers may not write, send or receive any text based communication; however such prohibition shall not apply to a voice based communication which is automatically converted by such device to be sent as a message in written form.

Drivers may not watch a video or movie on a wireless telecommunications device or a stand-alone electronic device other than watching data related to the navigation of such vehicle.

Drivers may not record or broadcast a video on a wireless telecommunications device or a stand-alone electronic device. This provision does not apply to continuously recording or broadcasting video within or outside a vehicle.  An example of this could be a dash camera.

The law also provides restrictions on the use of wireless telecommunication devices by School Bus Drivers and Commercial Vehicle Operators. A bus driver may not operate a wireless telecommunication device or a two way radio when loading or unloading passengers. The driver of a school bus shall not use or operate a wireless telecommunication device, while the bus is in motion, unless it is being used in a similar manner as a two-way radio to allow for live communication between the driver and school officials or public safety officials.

Commercial Vehicle Operators shall not use more than a single button on a wireless telecommunications device to initiate or terminate a voice communication. These operators shall not reach for a wireless telecommunications device or stand-alone electronic device unless the driver remains in a seated driving position and remains fully restrained by a safety belt.

It is important for our community to know and understand these new laws. We encourage questions and recommend personal responsibility and education. Your sheriff’s office fully supports this new law; as we believe it can and will save lives.

 

Honored to serve as your sheriff,

Jeff Johnson

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