A Guide to House Bill 673, Georgia’s Proposed Distracted Driving Bill
Written by: Ashley Gowder Mitchell, Esq.
Georgia is one step closer to enacting a bill that will drastically limit phone use while driving. Last week, a House committee voted in favor of a bill to crack down on distracted driving due to phone use. House Bill 673 would require drivers to use hands-free technology when using cell phones and other electronic devices. Violators would be fined at least $300. It also would increase the penalty from one point assessed against a driver’s license to up to six points for repeat offenders. Drivers with 15 points in a 24-month period lose their license.
Currently, it is illegal to text and drive in Georgia. Drivers under 18 with a learner’s permit are completely banned from using wireless devices while driving. However, drivers of non-commercial vehicles are allowed to dial and hold their phone. Law enforcement officers and proponents of the bill argue that the current law is unenforceable because it is difficult to tell whether a driver is texting or merely dialing. Proponents of House Bill 673 also cite rising insurance premiums and an increase in distracted driving accidents.
Under the proposed bill, drivers would still be allowed to talk via a hands-free device. The following is a simple break down of House Bill 673’s prohibitions and terms:
- Writing, sending or reading any text-based communication, including a text message, instant message, e-mail or internet data while holding your device is banned. This does not restrict viewing your GPS screen or mapping app like Waze.
- Watching or recording a video is banned.
- “Hands free” is not just limited to a driver’s hands. The proposal states that a driver cannot “physically hold or support, with any part of his or her body, a wireless telecommunications device or stand-alone electronic device.” This means the device cannot be resting on your lap or against the ear on your shoulder.
- Prohibited “wireless telecommunication devices” do not include radios, CB radios, subscription-based emergency communication devices (i.e., OnStar) and “in-vehicle security, navigation or remote diagnostics” systems.
- The current bill prohibits a driver from reaching for a device if it prevents him or her from maintaining a properly retrained and seated driving position.
- There are certain circumstances when an electronic device can be handled while driving. For example, a driver can use his or her phone to report a traffic accident, medical emergency, or hazardous road condition.
- Drivers can use their phones while “lawfully parked”, which does not include momentary stops at red lights and stop signs.
The proposed law is on trend with measures passed by other states and municipalities. Using a hand-held cellphone while driving has been banned in 15 states and the District of Columbia. Earlier this year, Smyrna became the first city in Georgia with a hands-free driving law. Drivers are only allowed “one touch” for activities like answering a call or initiating GPS. The ordinance imposes a fine up to $150 and was modeled after an ordinance passed in Austin, Texas.
The language of House Bill 673 will likely undergo changes and edits as it moves through the legislative process. The bill now awaits debate in the House and will need to clear both the full House vote and the Senate vote. However, Georgia drivers should stay up to speed on the state’s efforts to crack down on phone use while driving, as this legal trend is quickly picking up support among lawmakers and the general public.