The Hands-Free Georgia Act prohibits motorists from holding their phones while driving. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM
Photo: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC
Photo: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Expert: Georgia cell phone law lowered traffic fatalities

An insurance expert told state lawmakers Wednesday that Georgia traffic fatalities, injuries and collision claims have fallen, thanks in part to the state’s new distracted driving law

Traffic fatalities fell 3.4 percent I 2018 over the previous year, according to Robert Hartwig, director of the Center for Risk and Uncertainty Management at the University of South Carolina: 

Courtesy of Robert Hartwig, University of South Carolina

The finding mirror’s preliminary data released last month by the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety, which found a 7 percent decline in fatalities.

Hartwig told the House Insurance Committee that the frequency of accidents involving injuries also has declined the last three quarters: 

Courtesy of Robert Hartwig, University of South Carolina

And he reported the frequency of collision insurance claims in Georgia has declined over the last five quarters: 

Courtesy of Robert Hartwig, University of South Carolina

These trends reverse years of increases that safety experts attributed in part to distracted driving. Hartwig told lawmakers the good news is due, in part, to the Hands-Free Georgia Act, which took effect last July. The law prohibits Georgia motorists from holding their cell phones or other electronic devices while driving. 

Though the trends Hartwig cited began before the law took effect, he said public awareness of distracted driving likely increased as the bill was debated in the General Assembly last winter, contributing to the decline in injuries and property damage. 

Improved vehicle technology – like built-in hands-free devices and automatic braking – also likely contributed to the positive trends, he said. 

Not all of the news Hartwig delivered was good. Though insurance claims have fallen, the average cost of those claims has risen. That’s likely because vehicles are more expensive. 

“Cars are fast becoming computers on wheels,” Hartwig told lawmakers. “And computers are expensive to repair.” 

Hartwig predicted further declines in fatalities and injuries. 

“There’s no question in my mind that the Hands-Free Georgia Act is helping turn things around through increased awareness and, as we go forward, increased enforcement,” he said.

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About the Author

David Wickert
David Wickert
David Wickert writes about transportation issues for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He previously worked for newspapers in Washington state, Illinois...
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