Houston & Peach

Should Georgia drivers use hands-free cellphone technology? New bill would require it

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Perry Mayor Jimmy Faircloth experienced some near misses before he finally crashed in this texting and driving simulator.
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Perry Mayor Jimmy Faircloth experienced some near misses before he finally crashed in this texting and driving simulator.

A renewed push to require drivers in Georgia to use hands-free cellphone technology has emerged after a House committee studied distracting driving.

Two of the study committee members are from Houston County: state Rep. Shaw Blackmon, R-Bonaire, and state Rep. Heath Clark, R-Warner Robins.

House Bill 673 prohibits the use of a cellphone, tablet or other wireless devices without having a hands-free accessory.

The proposed law would allow the use of a single touch or swipe of a finger on a wireless a telecommunications device to initiate or terminate wireless communication, according to copy of the bill.

Fines imposed for the misdemeanor would be set by local judges and range from $150 to $300 for the first offense, $250 to $500 for the second offense and $500 to $700 for the third offense.

Fines must be paid within 90 days, or a violator's driving license may be suspended. Reinstatement would require payment of the fees and an additional $50 penalty.

Also, points assessed against a driver's license for a violation would increase from 1 to 3 for the first offense and to 4 for subsequent offenses.

Additionally, second or subsequent offense would also require the violator to attend a defensive-driving course.

The bill is in response to findings of a House subcommittee charged with studying the problem of distracted driving after a spike in Georgia traffic fatalities.

The committee recommended enactment of a hands-free law in Georgia that would prohibit any contact with a cellphone or other wireless device and a graduated increase in fines from $150 to $1,000.

The committee met at Central Georgia Technical College in Warner Robins on Sept. 25 as part of its fact finding meetings across the state. The committee issued its report Dec. 31.

"I'm not sure a hands-free bill is the solution," said Clark, who thinks the bill creates different penalties for distracted driving - penalizing those using a cellphone improperly more than those distracted by fidgeting with a radio knob or eating a hamburger while driving. He favors increasing point penalties against driver's licenses for all distracted-driving violators, and thinks educating drivers about the deadly consequences of distracted driving would prove most effective.

Generally speaking, the bill addresses the issues that were brought up before the study committee, Blackmon said.

"I'm anxious to see it move through the process and see if there are some things that we didn't think about, or that didn't come up during our conversations, " he said. "We want to get something that is as good as it possibly could be for all Georgians to keep our roads safer."

A House bill to require hands-free use of electronic devices was rejected by lawmakers in the 2017 session.