Make Georgia Hands-Free

Distracted driving has emerged as a patient safety epidemic.

According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, distracted driving is responsible for about 16 percent of all fatal crashes in the U.S. – which translates into some 5,000 deaths per year.

Meanwhile, a 2014 National Safety Council (NSC) report concluded that mobile phone use caused 26 percent of car accidents in the U.S. It also found that “just five percent of mobile phone-related accidents in the U.S. involved texting,” while stressing that, “The majority of the accidents involve drivers distracted while talking on cell phones.”

The ‘End Distracted Driving’ campaign says that, “There is clear evidence that talking on a hands-free device is distracting and reduces the driver’s ability to react. There are some mixed studies that show hands free use of phones, including voice to text, is just as dangerous as holding a device. Also, there are studies that show the laws do not work without strong enforcement and public awareness campaigns.”

And NSC, reports that, “In states with hand held device bans, the crash death rates were reduced from 11.8 deaths per 100,000 to 7.3 per 100,000.”

Distracted driving is any activity that could divert a person’s attention away from driving, including texting, using a cell phone or smartphone, eating and drinking, grooming, reading, looking at maps, using a navigation system, and adjusting the radio.

In 2016, the Medical Association of Georgia’s (MAG) House of Delegates passed a resolution that calls for MAG to promote legislation that would require drivers who make phone calls while operating a motor vehicle to do so on a hands-free basis.

In 2017, MAG supported a bill that Rep. Betty Price, M.D., introduced that would have prohibited drivers in the state from using hand-held cell phones while driving – legislation that has passed in other 14 states. (It is also worth noting that Georgia is one of 46 states that have enacted bans on texting while driving.)

While Dr. Price’s bill did not pass in 2017, lawmakers did pass a measure (H.R. 282) by Rep. John Carson (R-Marietta) that will lead to the formation of a House study committee on distracted driving – and MAG will serve on this study committee. 

In addition to MAG's legislative efforts, the MAG Foundation is working with the Medical Association of Atlanta and the MAG Alliance to raise public awareness on the benefits of ending distracted driving. Contact Lori Cassity Murphy at lmurphy@mag.org or 678.303.9282 to support this campaign with a donation.  

Gov. Deal signs MAG priority ‘hands-free’ bill into law

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal signed one of the Medical Association of Georgia’s (MAG) legislative patient safety priorities into law on May 2, 2018, H.B. 673 by Rep. John Carson (R-Marietta) makes it illegal for drivers to use a cell phone on anything other than a hands-free basis. It includes an escalating schedule of fines and “points” for multiple violations.

MAG Government Relations Director Derek Norton was on hand for the bill-signing ceremony.

Georgia Rep. John Carson’s (R-Marietta) ‘Hands-Free Georgia Act’ – made it illegal for drivers to use a cell phone on anything other than a hands-free basis in the state beginning on July 1.

“We are applauding Representative Carson for his tenacity, his vision, and his leadership,” says MAG President Frank McDonald, M.D. “There is no doubt that his legislation is going to reduce injuries and save lives, which is why this was one of MAG’s patient safety priorities in 2018.”

Dr. McDonald is also thanking and applauding the MAG Foundation, the MAG Alliance, and MAA for funding the ‘Make Georgia Hands-Free’ campaign. 

Drivers are allowed to:

-Physically hold or support a wireless telecommunications device (i.e. mobile phone) or a stand-alone electronic device (i.e. iPad, iPod, Kindle, etc.) with any part of the body; exceptions would be made for an earpiece, headphone device or telecommunications device worn on a wrist (i.e. smart watch).

-Write, send or read any text-based communication, including but not limited to instant message, e-mail or internet data; exceptions would be allowed for voice-to-text technology.

-Watch a video or movie on a wireless telecommunications device or stand-alone electronic device;

-Record or broadcast a video on a wireless telecommunications device or stand-alone electronic device; this would not apply to devices used for the sole purpose of continuously recording or broadcasting video within or outside of the motor vehicle (i.e. dash cams).

Drivers are allowed to:

-Use their phone for voice communication on a hands-free basis;

-Touch their phone for dialing, receiving or ending a call as long as the driver is not holding or supporting the phone;

-Use their phone for GPS navigation apps;

-Use voice-to-text technology.

Rep. Carson highlights frequently asked questions about the bill and offers answers to those questions:

Why is this law needed in Georgia?

Our state has seen significant increases in vehicle traffic crashes, fatalities and bodily injury. The vast majority of these increases have been in rear-end crashes, single-car crashes and crashes by drivers from 15 to 25-years-old. State and local law enforcement have stated that these incidents are a clear indication of driver inattention.

The 15 states that have passed hands-free driving laws saw a 16 percent decrease in traffic fatalities in the two years after the law was passed. In addition, traffic fatalities were reduced even further in subsequent years.

Could I still talk on my phone while driving?

Yes, as long as it is done hands-free. Drivers are able to use their phone's speakerphone, Bluetooth technology, an earpiece, a headphone or other device to allow them to communicate on a hands-free basis.

Could I touch my cellphone to dial a number or receive or end a call?

Yes. The law simply prohibits drivers from holding or supporting the phone.

Am I be required to purchase a hands-free accessory, such as a mount or bracket?

No. The  law simply states that a driver cannot hold or support a mobile phone. A phone can be left on a vehicle's console, a front seat, etc. However, for the safety of all Georgians, state and local law enforcement recommend the purchase and use of a hands-free device if using a mobile phone while driving.

My vehicle does not have Bluetooth technology/capability. How can I comply with the law?

Many online retailers offer a Bluetooth adapter for vehicles without Bluetooth or similar technology built into the vehicle. These adapters can be found at local retailers or online by searching 'Bluetooth hands-free car kit' in an internet search engine.

What are the fines/penalties?

-First conviction: $50, one point on a license;

-Second conviction: $100, two points on a license;

-Third and subsequent convictions: $150, three points on a license.

Could I talk to someone via video telephony apps, such as FaceTime or Skype, if doing so 'hands-free?'

No. The proposed hands-free driving law states that a driver shall not 'record or broadcast a video' on any mobile phones, iPads, computers, etc. while operating a vehicle.

For more information on HB 673, please click here.

Representative John Carson represents the citizens of District 46, which includes portions of Cherokee and Cobb counties. He was elected to the House of Representatives in 2011 and currently serves as Vice Chairman of the Appropriations Committee, Vice Chairman of the Energy, Utilities & Telecommunications Committee, Vice Chairman of the Transportation Committee and Secretary of the Insurance Committee. He also serves on the Intragovernmental Coordination and Ways and Means committees and is a member of the Military Affairs working group.

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